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Afghan civilians killed in NATO strike -

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Afghan civilians killed in NATO strike

Broadcast: 15/02/2010

Reporter: Hamish Fitzsimmons

The deaths of 12 Afghan civilians has overshadowed a NATO operation in the southern Helmand
province.

Transcript

LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: The early success of a NATO operation in southern Afghanistan that started
on the weekend has been overshadowed by the deaths of 12 civilians in a town in Helmand Province.

While the combat stage of Operation Moshtarak has just begun, NATO's been working with locals for
weeks to encourage them to turn their backs on the Taliban.

What makes this campaign different, according to NATO officials, is that a civilian administration
will be quickly installed once the region has been secured.

NATO's Commander in Afghanistan has called it "a government in a box", as Hamish Fitzsimmons
reports.

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS, REPORTER: Over the weekend, NATO forces pushed into Taliban strongholds in
southern Afghanistan.

Operation Moshtarak's commanders are surprised at the lack of resistance.

LARRY NICHOLSON, COMMANDER OF US MARINES, SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN: I think it's going very well. I
think, you know, it's only day two; I don't want to get ahead of ourselves, but we're optimistic
that we're on timeline, maybe a little bit ahead of timeline. We've been surprised by the amount of
IEDs we've found. There has been no shortage of IEDs, probably even more than we had thought.

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: Overnight, 12 civilians were killed in the town in Marjah when NATO rockets
missed their insurgent targets. So far, seven Coalition soldiers have died.

Operation Moshtarak was weeks in the planning and well publicised, which gave Taliban forces the
chance to flee or blend into the countryside, which NATO expected. It's has been working with local
councils, asking people what they want rather than imposing what it thinks they want.

NEIL RILEY, CULTURAL ADVISOR, 1 ROYAL WELSH REGIMENT: Rather than clear up the mess after we've
fought a battle, we can avoid it from the start by making the right contacts in an area and by
convincing people that we are coming to bring peace rather than fighting, which is what we know
that they want.

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: The United States says that this operation is different to others, that
civilian infrastructure and services will follow hot on the heels of combat operations.

NATO Commander US General Stanley McChrystal calls it "a government in a box, ready to roll in."

Despite the fact the government in the box will be led by an Afghan official returning to the
country after 15 years in Germany, the US insists locals are the priority.

MICHAEL MULLEN, CHAIRMAN OF THE US JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: This is not focused on the Taliban, and
it is a strategy that will not just clear the area, but that will hold it and then build right
behind it. So there's a civilian component here and there's a local governance piece which is going
to be installed immediately as well.

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: The town and district of Marjah has been identified as a major Taliban base and
centre of opium production. Afghan officials have been trying to secure support by preventing
bloodshed.

HAJI MOHAMMAD ANWAR, CHIEF OF HELMAND PROVINCIAL COUNCIL (voiceover translation): The Governor
asked the people, with the approval of the Interior Minister, to establish a council from the
religious elders to get in touch with the Taliban, in order to guarantee the lives of those who
want to lay down their weapons and don't want to fight.

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: While the vast majority of the 15,000 troops in the operation are British and
American, Australian troops are playing some role.

Australian Defence is as usual tight-lipped on the whereabouts of Australia's 1,300 personnel in
Afghanistan, but the BBC overnight showed at least one Australian officer in the NATO operations
room at Kandahar airbase.

Not far from the current offensive, Afghanistan's southern neighbour is understandably nervous
about what effect Operation Moshtarak will have in the border regions where the Pakistani
Government is waging its own war against local Taliban.

YUSUF GILANI, PAKISTANI PRIME MINISTER (voiceover translation): We were concerned about that, that
if there is a surge in the south that can destabilise Afghanistan. We have taken care of
everything.

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: Once NATO forces have taken areas like Marjah, the Afghan military and civilian
authorities will begin to take over security and try to prevent the Taliban from reclaiming their
former stronghold.

Hamish Fitzsimmons, Lateline.