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U.S.-Led Coalition Looking Into Afghan Civilian Casualties

Afghan men beside a crater on the edge of their home in Pashmul in 2006 (AFP) KANDAHAR, Afghanistan; June 30, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- A number of civilians were killed in air strikes carried out by the U.S.-led coalition late on June 29 in southern Helmand Province, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reported today.

It's still unclear how many people were killed or wounded.

However, local officials are quoted as saying there were at least 30 casualties and a number of wounded. Some sources have put the number of casualties at 50 and 80.

Dur Alisha, the mayor of Girishk district in the southern province of Helmand, was quoted by news agencies as saying that initial investigations indicate that 30 civilians, including women, children and men, have been killed.

But Nader Nadery, the spokesman for Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission, told RFE/RL that "we cannot comment on the number of [casualties] because initial reports are usually not [reliable], they're either exaggerated and the reported number of casualties is higher than the real figure, or the reported number of casualties is lower than the real figure. There is a need for more investigation."

Coalition Looking Into Reports

Major John Thomas, a spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force, said there are ongoing NATO operations in the region and that there have been several engagements with Taliban fighters. He said NATO is investigating further to see what other casualties there might have been there.

Civilians deaths caused by military operations by U.S. and NATO-led troops have angered Afghans and prompted President Hamid Karzai to publicly condemn foreign forces for carelessness.

Karzai has urged restraint and better coordination of military operations with the Afghan government, while also blaming the Taliban for using civilians as human shields.

Nadery agrees that better coordination with the Afghan government is important in preventing or minimizing civilian casualties. However, he said that other measures are needed.

"What we want and we think will improve the situation and lead to fewer civilian casualties is firstly, a decrease in air strikes, especially operations in areas with a civilian population," Nadery said.

"Secondly, there should be more cooperation between all the international forces that are operating in Afghanistan and national forces; this is a key issue and it will help decrease the number of civilian casualties," he added. "Thirdly, there should more emphasize on the ways information and intelligence that is being given to international forces is being monitored and evaluated. Information about the presence of Taliban forces should be evaluated better, this will help to decrease the number of civilian casualties and it will also increase people's trust in the war or campaign against terrorism in Afghanistan."

He said the Independent Human Rights Commission has expressed concern over the growing number of civilian casualties with international forces and also the Afghan government.

Violence has soared in Afghanistan in recent months, leading to the death of hundreds of militants and also civilians.

There are no official figures on civilian deaths in the country. But a study by the Afghan government, its key foreign backers, and the United Nations suggests that more than 3,700 people were killed by fighting in Afghanistan in 2006. The majority appear to be insurgents. But some 1,000 civilians are estimated to have been killed last year by both Taliban attacks and NATO air strikes.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer warned earlier this month that without concrete action to reduce civilian casualties, NATO's mission in Afghanistan is at risk of losing support from the Afghan people, the parliament, and even Karzai's government.

U.S.-Afghan Relations

U.S.-Afghan Relations
STRATEGIC PARTNERS: Since leading the military campaign to oust the fundamentalist and largely unrecognized Taliban regime from power in 2001, U.S. officials have pledged a long-term interest in Afghan stability.


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