Snipers, Booby Traps Hamper Marja Offensive in Afghanistan

The U.S. widely telegraphed last week that the offensive was coming, partly in the hopes of minimizing civilian casualties. Nevertheless, the military announced today that three more civilians were killed accidentally during the assault on Marja.

One man was shot when he was inside a building that the Taliban was using to fire on Afghan and allied soldiers Sunday. Although taken to a medical center, he died of his wounds.

Two other civilians died on Sunday and Monday when they ignored or didn't understand warnings, including flares and warning shots, to say away from American posts. Fearing they were suicide bombers, the men were shot when they continued to advance. One man even began running towards the Americans, the statement said.

"These incidents represent some of the most difficult situations being faced by Afghan and ISAF forces conducting Operation Mostarak. Our forces are continuing to do everything they can to protect civilians," said Col.Steven Baker, ISAF Joint Command Combined Joint Operations Cell director.

Earlier in the assault, 12 civilians,including six children, were killed in an artillery strike. McChrystal expressed his regret at this "tragic loss of life" and immediately suspended the use of the rocket launching system used.

"When President Karzai approved the conduct of this operation, he gave us some specific guidance and that guidance was to continue to protect the people of Afghanistan, so this operation has been done with that in mind," McChrystal told reporters today.

The Taliban propaganda machine immediately picked up on the incident.

"Infidels had promised that no civilians would be killed, but so for 17 civilians have been killed by America's rocket attack," they said in an online statement.

The international forces, mindful of the potential damage a high civilian death toll could bring to the outcome of Operation Moshtarak, say they are doing everything they can to avoid such a thing.

"I have spoken to President Karzai and I wanted him to know that we are doing everything in our power to minimize civilian casualties," Prime Minister Gordon Brown said in a statement today.

ABC News witnessed Marines giving medical assistance to a man and young girl who had been shot after being caught in a crossfire. The girl was hit in the knee and the man in the elbow. Both were flown by helicopter to a U.S .medical facility.

"Engagement with locals is absolutely vital," Dietz told the BBC.

Some here say they welcome the change U.S. and Afghan forces could bring.

"I'm happy that the Marines and Afghan forces are here because my kids will be able to go to school now," Abdul Ranee, a Marja resident, said. He said neither he nor his brother, cousin or children had ever been to school. His son, when asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, smiled and said he just wanted to learn to read and write.

A pharmacist approached Marines to warn them that his shop was boobytrapped with mines and asked the U.S. to get rid of them.

The offensive has been flagged for weeks to persuade Taliban fighters to leave so the area can be recaptured with minimal damage or loss of civilian life, in the hope that the roughly 100,000 people there will welcome the Afghan administration.

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