(Reuters) - A roadside bomb killed 14 civilians in western Afghanistan on Thursday and four Afghan soldiers died in a U.S. air strike overnight, hours before a U.S. strategy review reported progress in the Afghan war.
Violence is at its worst in Afghanistan since U.S.-backed Afghan forces ousted the Taliban in 2001 after the September 11 al Qaeda attacks on the United States, with record civilian and military casualties.
U.S. President Barack Obama's review said "notable operational gains" had been made and Taliban momentum had been "arrested" in much of the country and reversed in some areas, but any gains were fragile and reversible.
Obama is under pressure to show enough progress against a Taliban-led insurgency to start withdrawing troops next year from the increasingly unpopular war. NATO agreed at a summit in Lisbon last month that it would aim for a 2014 handover of security responsibility to Afghan forces.
Almost 700 foreign soldiers have been killed in 2010, but it is Afghan civilians who bear the brunt of the conflict as insurgents expand from traditional strongholds into once peaceful areas in the north and west.
About 1,270 civilians were killed in the first six months of 2010, U.N. figures show, up 21 percent from the beginning of 2009.
A roadside bomb killed 14 civilians and injured four when it blew up a minibus in western Afghanistan, a government official said, adding that the victims may have been part of an extended family going to an engagement party.
President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack.
Overnight, four Afghan soldiers in Musa Qala district in the southern province of Helmand were killed by a U.S. air strike, Defense Ministry spokesman Zaher Azimy said.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), said it had reports of the Afghan deaths and that a team was investigating the incident.
The attacks came days after a bomb killed 15 people in the south and six Afghan soldiers were killed in separate NATO air strikes targeting insurgents.
Civilian casualties caused by foreign troops and mistaken killings of Afghan security forces have been a frequent source of friction between Karzai's government and his Western backers.
On Wednesday, the International Committee of the Red Cross warned of worsening violence in Afghanistan in 2011 and said reaching Afghans who needed help was harder now than it had been at any time in the past 30 years.
The Snooper Report.
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