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LONDON (Reuters) – NATO forces in Afghanistan have resumed using a type of rocket that killed 12 civilians after concluding that the missile hit its intended target and did not veer off course, a NATO commander said on Tuesday.
The civilians died on Sunday, the second day of an offensive designed to impose Afghan government authority on one of the last big Taliban strongholds in Helmand, the country’s most violent province.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force originally said two rockets from a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System launched at insurgents veered about 300 meters off course.
They had been fired at a compound from where insurgents were firing at NATO and Afghan troops during the assault on Marjah in southern Afghanistan.
NATO suspended use of the weapons system pending a review.
The alliance apologized for the civilian casualties. The incident damaged efforts to win local support. Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who said the victims were members of the same family, ordered an investigation.
Major General Nick Carter, the British commander of NATO forces in southern Afghanistan, said on Tuesday the rockets had not veered off course.
“We know now that the missile arrived at the target it was supposed to arrive at. It wasn’t a rogue missile. There was no technical fault in it,” he told reporters in London, via video link from Afghanistan.
A young U.S. Marine Corps officer in charge in the area where the rockets were fired was protecting a number of civilians behind his positions, Carter said.
“We are using those missiles again, although only one of them has been used since that event. The procedures that were applied to that first missile-firing were found to be as they should be,” Carter said.
“We are being very careful though with any aerial-delivered munitions,” he said.
A British Ministry of Defense spokesman said the soldiers who targeted the compound did not know there were civilians there. “It is not unusual for the insurgents to operate in compounds where there are civilians sheltering,” he said.
The Helmand assault, one of NATO’s biggest against the Taliban since the war began in 2001, tests U.S. President Barack Obama’s plan to send 30,000 more troops to seize insurgent-held areas before a 2011 troop drawdown.
British and Afghan forces are also involved in the operation.
(Editing by Janet Lawrence)