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NATO Reports Fewer Clashes in Southern Offensive

NATO is reporting that the alliance's offensive against a Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan has slowed during the last 24 hours and some residents are beginning to return to cleared areas.

In a statement released Wednesday, NATO said that while improvised bombs and insurgent gunmen continue to pose risks around the town of Marjah, there have been fewer clashes with enemy fighters.

NATO says about 3,600 central Helmand residents have registered in the provincial capital as internally displaced persons.

Also Wednesday in neighboring Kandahar province, Afghan police say gunmen on a motorbike shot and killed a senior official.

The province's deputy police chief, Mohammad Shah Farooqi, said the head of Kandahar's culture and information department, Abdul Majid Babai was killed on his way to work.

NATO commanders have said that winning the trust of the Afghan population is a key goal of the southern offensive. But despite strict rules governing how allied troops can respond to Taliban attacks, there continue to be instances of civilian deaths.

On Tuesday, U.S. General Stanley McChrystal apologized directly to the Afghan people for a recent airstrike that officials say killed 27 civilians in Uruzgan province.

The commander of U.S. and NATO forces in the country delivered his message in a video address translated into Dari and Pashto and aired on Afghan television.