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U.S. rockets kill civilians during offensive

MARJAH, Afghanistan - Two U.S. rockets slammed into a home yesterday outside the southern Taliban stronghold of Marjah, killing 12 civilians after Afghanistan's president appealed to NATO to take care in its campaign to seize the town.

Inside Marjah, Marines encountered "death at every corner" in their second day of a massive offensive to capture this bleak mud-brick city filled with booby traps, hard-core Taliban fighters and civilians unsure where to cast their loyalty.

Marines confronted a fierce sandstorm as they ducked in and out of doorways and hid behind bullet-riddled walls to evade sniper fire. To the north, U.S. Army troops fought skirmishes with Taliban fighters, calling in a Cobra attack helicopter against the insurgents.

The civilian deaths were a blow to NATO and Afghan efforts to win the support of residents, a major goal of the biggest ground offensive of the eight-year war. Marjah, with a population of 80,000, is a Taliban logistical center and a base for their lucrative opium trade, which finances the insurgency.

The rockets were fired at insurgents who attacked U.S. and Afghan forces, wounding one American and one Afghan, NATO said. Instead, the projectiles veered 300 yards off target and blasted a house in the Nad Ali district.

The top NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, apologized to President Hamid Karzai for "this tragic loss of life" and suspended the use of the sophisticated rocket system pending "a thorough review of this incident," NATO said.

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