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Afghan border guards kill 7 civilians

KABUL, Afghanistan — Seven civilians were shot dead on Friday as they were apparently mistaken for a group of insurgents trying to cross the frontier from Pakistan, an Afghan police official said Saturday.

The Afghan official, Abdul Raziq, who leads the border police in Kandahar province, said the seven men were from a village in Shorabak, a remote district on the Pakistani border. They were killed when they strayed close to a checkpoint manned by Afghan border police, who opened fire because they believed their post was going to be overrun.

The border guards "thought they were insurgents," Raziq said.

The guards were detained after the shooting as part of an investigation, Raziq said. The bodies of the civilians were taken back to their village, called Sortano.

No U.S. or other foreign troops were present during the shooting, Raziq said.

Also on Saturday, British and Afghan forces carried on with military operations intended to lay the groundwork for a planned offensive in Marjah, a Taliban stronghold in Helmand province.

Habibullah Khan, the governor of the Nad Ali district — which contains Marjah — said a large number of mines and homemade bombs had slowed the advance of the British and Afghan forces operating around the city. The preparatory operation was unfolding on the main road leading into Marjah, a city of about 60,000 that sits on the western side of the Helmand River.

Marjah is believed to harbor several hundred Taliban fighters as well as a network of laboratories that convert poppy to opium. Afghan and U.S. leaders say that taking the city away from the Taliban is crucial in pacifying the province, which is the most violent in the country.

The Afghan, U.S. and British officials intend to install a functioning government and police force to help prevent the Taliban from returning. They say they hope much of the Taliban leave Marjah before the battle starts, hence the early announcement.

As of Saturday, 901 U.S. troops have died in the Afghanistan war. Identifications not previously published:

Army Staff Sgt. Rusty H. Christian, 24, Greenville, Tenn.; explosion Jan. 2; Oruzgan province.

Army Spc. Marc P. Decoteau, 19, Waterville Valley, N.H.; combat Jan. 29; Wardak province.

Marine Lance Cpl. Michael L. Freeman Jr., 21, Fayetteville, Pa.; combat Monday; Helmand province.

Army Pfc. Zachary G. Lovejoy, 20, Albuquerque, N.M.; blast Tuesday; Zabul province.

Marine Sgt. David J. Smith, 25, Frederick, Md.; combat Jan. 26; Helmand province.

Army Capt. David J. Thompson, 39, Hooker, Okla.; combat Jan. 29; Wardak province.

Army Capt. Daniel Whitten, 28, Grimes, Iowa; explosion Tuesday; Zabul province.

Afghan border guards kill 7 civilians 02/06/10 [Last modified: Saturday, February 6, 2010 10:00pm]
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