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U.S. Strike In Afghanistan Kills Dozens

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

NOAH ADAMS, host:

And I'm Noah Adams.

We begin this hour with Afghanistan. Taliban militants hijacked two NATO fuel tankers last night that prompted a U.S. air strike that killed at least 60 people and wounded 30 more. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson has the story from Kabul.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Afghan officials say the tankers were en route to Kabul from neighboring Tajikistan after sundown yesterday when Taliban fighters intercepted them in Kunduz province in the north of the country. One driver was shot dead while the fate of the other remains unknown.

The Taliban drove the tankers some three miles off the main highway before getting stuck in a riverbed. Hours later, they enlisted the help of the locals to unload the fuel. That's when an American warplane arrived and fired on the tankers. Most of those killed in the resulting blast were believed to be Taliban fighters, including one high ranking commander and four Chechen insurgents.

But Kunduz provincial officials say an undetermined a number of poor farmers and other residents trying to get free fuel were also killed. NATO says it's investigating those claims, although it believed the area to be free of any civilians when the planes struck. The overnight attack prompted Afghan President Hamid Karzai to dispatch a high ranking government team to the scene to investigate.

Karzai renewed his criticism of NATO forces for not doing more to protect civilians in the course of military operations. Such civilian casualties have soured relations between the Afghan government and its international coalition partners in recent years.

Earlier this summer, U.S. General Stanley McChrystal who heads NATO lead forces here ordered that air strikes be used more sparingly, especially in places where civilians are at risk. Until the overnight attack in Kunduz, the strategy appeared to be working. The province is a breadbasket for Afghanistan. But smugglers and a resurgent Taliban have made it increasingly unstable in recent years. The German military is responsible for security in Kunduz and its forces called in the air strike.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Kabul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.