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U.S. and NATO troops killed more noncombatants than Taliban

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Maximus
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« on: July 10, 2007, 02:41:02 am »

NATO and U.S. military officials say that when in doubt, human rights groups sometimes count ambiguous cases among the civilian dead, a contention sharply disputed by the investigators.

"There is always a margin of error, but no one is interested in inflating these figures," said Anja de Beer, the director of the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief, a consortium of humanitarian groups that also tallies civilian deaths.

"We do not rely only on what people say immediately after a battle. Our investigators follow up afterward, talk to village elders, to families, and look at fresh graves," De Beer said. "When there is any question of identity, we take that into account."

Often, civilians are killed in the aftermath of an attack by insurgents. Azizullah was shot and killed by troops responding to a car bomb that went off about half a mile away.

The NATO-led force said at the time that initial indications were that a soldier's weapon had accidentally discharged. Two weeks later, a spokesman said there had been no further findings.

Azizullah's family, an extended clan of 25 living in a mud-brick compound on the outskirts of the capital, veered between mourning and fury.

"Who will bring my son back to me?" asked his weeping, white-turbaned father, Mohammed Zia. "No one, no one. Not even God."

The family was particularly angered by the fact that the shooting took place more than an hour after the explosion and that there was no report of hostile fire directed at troops.

"We thought the foreign troops, the Americans, would bring peace to this country," said the father. "Now they have killed my son, and I do not want to see their faces ever again."

Political analysts say that despite the increase in civilian deaths, most Afghans still support the presence of international troops.

"It's an obvious truth that the Western forces bring security that we need," said Said Najib Mahmood, a political science professor at Kabul University. "But they are killing a lot of people, and because of that there is a loss of trust and confidence in the government."

Many analysts say the nature of combat tactics employed by both sides makes it very difficult for the military to avoid inflicting civilian casualties, a fact that the Taliban movement exploits to the maximum.

When allied forces come under fire from a walled compound of the kind that dots every Afghan village, the likeliest response is an airstrike a strategy that exposes Western troops to less danger than moving in on foot.

Sometimes, even hours of painstaking surveillance fail to turn up signs of noncombatants in the line of fire.

"Often we will refrain from making a strike because we suspect there might be civilians present," said Thomas. "But sometimes we're wrong."

If so, the consequences can be devastating.

"We see whole families killed together in their home mothers, babies, everyone," said Abdul Matim, a parliament member from Helmand province, who has personally investigated many of the civilian deaths in his home district. "It's a terrible sight."

Another common insurgent tactic is suicide car bombings aimed at military convoys. In response, jittery troops sometimes fire on civilians who are merely driving erratically or who accidentally come between military vehicles. Often there are more such shootings when a contingent of troops has recently arrived in Afghanistan.

"It takes time to figure out that not everyone in a turban is a suicide bomber," said Karzai, the analyst, who directs the independent Center for Conflict and Peace Studies in Kabul.

After a suicide bombing last week on the outskirts of Kabul that targeted a U.S. military convoy and killed two Western security officers, Afghan police anxiously waved journalists away.

"Don't go close," they warned. "The Americans might shoot you."

Criticism over civilian casualties frustrates NATO and U.S. officials, who say atrocities by the Taliban expose civilians to far greater dangers.

In one widely cited recent case, insurgents allegedly tried to trick a 6-year-old boy into blowing himself up at an Afghan police checkpoint, fitting him with a suicide vest they told him would eject flowers at the push of a button. Police managed to free the child.

At the same time, Western officials acknowledge that whatever the provocation, they must adhere to international norms of combat.

"We are rightly held to a higher standard of behavior," said Nicholas Lunt, the chief NATO civilian spokesman in Afghanistan.

At the compound of Azizullah's family, his four children, all younger than 5, tussled together on the floor and gazed with bright curiosity at visitors. Their uncle Mohammed Reza explained that they were too young to comprehend that their father was dead.

"I asked them where they think he is, and they say they don't know," he said. "They don't understand yet that he is never coming back."

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http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-civilian6jul06,0,4449979.story?page=2
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