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September 5, 2009

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NATO air strike on Afghanistan tankers kills up to 90 people

AN American fighter jet blasted two fuel tankers hijacked by the Taliban in northern Afghanistan yesterday, killing up to 90 people, including insurgents and dozens of civilians who had rushed to the scene to collect fuel, Afghan officials said.

NATO officials initially insisted that there were no civilians in the area when the attack occurred, but alliance chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen later acknowledged some civilians may have died.

The attack in northern Kunduz province is likely to fuel Afghan public anger over civilian injuries, which prompted NATO commander General Stanley McChrystal last June to order curbs on air strikes where civilians are at risk.

Violence has soared across much of the country since President Barack Obama ordered 21,000 American troops to Afghanistan this year, shifting the focus of the United States-led war on Islamic extremism from Iraq. Fifty-one US troops died in Afghanistan in August, the deadliest month for American forces there since the US-led invasion in late 2001.

Kunduz, a former Taliban stronghold, had been generally peaceful until insurgent attacks began rising earlier this year. Most of the fighting in Afghanistan this summer has been in the south and east, where US and British forces operate. The Germans are in charge of the Kunduz area.

The air strike occurred a day after Defense Secretary Robert Gates signaled for the first time that he may be willing to send more troops after months of publicly resisting a significant increase - despite growing public opposition in the US to the war.

A large number of civilian casualties could also stoke opposition in Germany to the Afghan mission ahead of the September 27 German national elections. There are 4,050 German soldiers in Afghanistan.


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