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Civilians Forgotten In Conversation On Casualties In Afghanistan

An Afghan man stands on the roof of a house damaged in an air strike in Nangarhar Province on February 21.
Farhad, 22, has been injured and admitted to the hospital after his home was targeted by missile attack in a recent military operation in the Ghazi Abad district of Konar Province in northeast Afghanistan.

About 60 civilians are reported to have been killed and scores injured in the four-day counterinsurgency operations near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

NATO, however, has contested this assessment. The military alliance says about 30 militants -- and no civilians -- were killed. The incident has -- once again -- led to serious tensions between the Afghan government and NATO commanders.

Farhad was one of the lucky ones who was able to get to a hospital. "Due to lack of transportation, a grave number of people who were injured are left without any immediate assistance," he told RFE/RL.

From time to time, officials in Kabul accuse NATO troops and the U.S.-led coalition of paying little mind to the lives of civilian Afghans while conducting military operations. For its part, the coalition says Taliban fighters routinely hide in villages and use civilians as shields while conducting attacks against foreign troops.

Despite a near-constant tension -- and many instances of disagreement -- the Afghan government and coalition forces remain publicly in agreement that the only way to success in the country is to win the hearts and minds of locals.

Complicating this specific case are NATO claims that the people who appeared in videos and photos from the scene of the bombing had been deliberately bloodied and burned by local elders.

"The Washington Post" reported that "media reports and television footage broadcast after the claims showed severely injured children and others with burns on their faces, hands, and feet"

However, the paper noted that it was "unclear if they were injured in military operations."

Unidentified sources who attended a meeting between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the leader of coalition forces, General David Petraeus, told "The Washington Post" that "Petraeus had suggested that Afghans might have intentionally burned their own children to exaggerate claims of civilian casualties."

Adding to General Petraeus's comments, Rear Admiral Gregory Smith, director of communications for the U.S.-led coalition, told "The Washington Post" that "the injuries to the children appeared inconsistent with the types of munitions used and that the burns to their hands and feet may have been the result of discipline sometimes handed out to Afghan children."

According to him, "boiling hands and feet is customary among some Afghan fathers as a way of dealing with children who misbehave." The Afghan government described these comments as being "outrageous, insulting, and racist" and asked for clarification.

As both sides try to prove their respect for civilians who suffer, the government and coalition forces are actually turning a blind eye to those same civilians.

In this case, it becomes almost impossible not to question how the fight to win hearts and minds in Afghanistan is really going.

-- Freshta Jalazai