Twelve Afghans died today when two rockets fired at insurgents missed their target by 1,000 feet and struck a house during the second day of NATO's ambitious effort to break the Taliban's grip on the country's dangerous south. Thousands of US and Afghan forces encountered pockets of resistance, fighting off sniper attacks, as they moved deeper into Marjah, a town of 80,000 people that is the linchpin of the militants' logistical and opium-smuggling network in Helmand province.
The civilian deaths were a blow to NATO and the Afghan government's attempts to win the allegiance of Afghans and get them to turn away from the insurgents. "We deeply regret this tragic loss of life," said Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who said he had apologized to Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Karzai had yesterday pleaded with military leaders to be "seriously careful for the safety of civilians." Meanwhile, a top Marine commander predicted it could take weeks to completely reclaim Marjah. "That doesn't necessarily mean an intense gun battle, but it probably will be 30 days of clearing."