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U.S. Attack Kills 22 Civilians, Local Officials Claim

Coalition spokesman Nathan Perry confirmed the strike, saying it was in response to a mortar attack on a U.S. military base, according to the Associated Press.

“These were combatants. These were people who were firing on us. We have no reports of noncombatant injuries,” Perry said.

But district chief Zia-Ul Rahman said the two attacked by the helicopter gunships had hit cars carrying people who “were evacuating the district as they were told by the U.S.-led troops to do so because they wanted to launch an operation against the Taliban,” according to Reuters.

The strike occurred in the Waygal district of Nuristan province. According to the U.S. statement, the helicopters were used to track down and destroy militants that attacked an International Security Assistance Force outpost in the area.

Perry gave no information on casualties of the attack.

American forces in Afghanistan continue to face mounting attacks by militant fighters and last month suffered the highest number of casualties since the invasion began in 2001. For the second month, American fatalities in Afghanistan have outnumbered those in Iraq, with 46 U.S. troops dying in Afghanistan compared to 31 in Iraq.

Coalition leaders have stressed the need for more troops in Afghanistan, citing an increased number of militant attacks this year. Attacks tend to surge during the summer months after the snow melts in the mountainous regions, but 2008 has outpaced 2007 for violence.

The government of Afghanistan is also partly to blame, said Seth Jones of the Rand Corporation on the NewsHour.

“There are two major reasons for the upsurge of violence. One is there continue to be challenges in governance, that is, the Afghan government’s ability to provide essential services in rural areas of the country and to protect local Afghans. Especially, the quality of Afghan national police continues to be a problem,” Jones said. “Second is outside support. That is, I think the levels of U.S. and other NATO forces continue to be significantly sort of underperforming.”

The Pentagon announced on Thursday it would extend the length of tours by 30 days for 2,200 Marines in the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit charged with combat operations in southern Afghanistan at the request of NATO commander Army Gen. David McKiernan.

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said that commanders “asked for 30 more days to milk the fighting season to the bitter end and cement the gains they have made,” according to the New York Times.

American officials continue to pressure neighboring Pakistan to curb the flow of fighters crossing the border from its tribal areas into Afghanistan.

On Friday, Taliban militants in the southern province of Kandahar killed eight policemen after throwing a hand grenade at a police post. Attacks on police are common and the Panjwayi district where the attack occurred is a known base for Taliban fighters.\

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