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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Launches New Afghan Offensive

BAGRAM, Afghanistan -- The United States said Monday it has launched its biggest-ever ground operation in Afghanistan against Islamic militants, but worried a bungled attack that killed nine children could alienate Afghans.

The military said it launched Operation Avalanche during the weekend across eastern and southern Afghanistan, where Taliban and allied Islamic militants have regained strength and carried out a series of attacks on foreign troops and aid workers.

About 2,000 of the 11,500 U.S.-led troops in the country are taking part in a mission designed to crush the militants and make the area safe enough for aid and reconstruction work to resume.

"The new operation will deny sanctuary to and disrupt the activities of terrorist forces simultaneously throughout the eastern, southeastern and southern regions of Afghanistan," U.S. spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Hilferty told a news briefing.

"This one is the largest we have ever designed," he said at the U.S. headquarters at Bagram, north of Kabul.

Hilferty said the operation involved four infantry battalions as well as soldiers from the Afghan National Army and militia.

But overshadowing the offensive are the deaths of nine children killed by a U.S. airstrike on the village of Hutala in the southern province of Ghazni on Saturday.

They are the latest civilians killed accidentally by U.S.-led forces pursuing remnants of the Taliban regime, overthrown in late 2001, along with members of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network.

Hilferty reiterated U.S. condolences to the children's families.

He said the strike by an A-10 "tankbuster" aircraft firing 30mm high-explosive and incendiary rounds had been carefully planned and aimed at what the military termed a "known terrorist."

"Unfortunately, when we got there, we found the bodies of nine children and one adult man."

Afghan officials said the intended target, Mullah Wazir, was not in his house at the time of the attack. Hilferty said U.S. forces were investigating and working to identify the man killed.

Asked if such mistakes could provoke anger against the troops and boost support for militants, Hilferty replied, "I think it is possible such mistakes could make Afghans think ill of the coalition."

The United Nations said Sunday that it was "profoundly distressed" by news of the children's deaths and called for a swift investigation and for it to be made public. It said the incident could have a negative impact in the troubled south.

Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Omar Samad said it was understood the attack had not been intentional, but added:

"Everyone realizes that mistakes have been made in the past and every effort must be made to prevent a recurrence."

Hilferty said the new U.S. operation follows Operation Mountain Resolve, which concluded in Nuristan and Kunar provinces over the weekend.

He said that in November, the U.S.-led force in Afghanistan had captured and destroyed tens of thousands of artillery rounds, rockets, grenades, bombs and small arms.

He added that "recent successes" had forced militants to switch tactics from confronting soldiers to soft targets such as civilians and aid workers, citing a bomb attack on Saturday that wounded 18 Afghans in Kandahar as one such example.