Foreign forces blasted for Afghan civilian deaths

By David Fox

KABUL, June 20 (Reuters) - A group of Western and Afghan aid organisations in Afghanistan has launched a blistering attack on foreign troops for not doing more to prevent civilian deaths in their hunt for Taliban fighters and other insurgents.

The Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief (ACBAR), which represents nearly 100 aid groups, also hit out at the Taliban for endangering civilians by hiding amongst them and for a spate of suicide attacks that have killed or injured dozens this year.

The broadside comes after one of the bloodiest weekends since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001. Dozens of civilian deaths were reported, including seven children killed in an airstrike on a religious school where insurgents were believed to have been holed up.

ACBAR and other independent groups say foreign and Afghan forces have killed more than 230 civilians this year alone.

"We strongly condemn operations and force protection measures carried out by international military forces in which disproportionate or indiscriminate use of force has resulted in civilian casualties," the group said in a statement.

ACBAR singled out U.S. troops operating outside the formal command of NATO, which leads the International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) for Afghanistan.

"Such operations have frequently been carried out by forces or agencies outside NATO command, often American forces in Operation Enduring Freedom, and sometimes in conjunction with Afghan forces," ACBAR said.

ISAF spokeswoman Lieutenant-Colonel Maria Carl said on Wednesday that civilian deaths were always regretted.

"When ISAF is responsible, we investigate, we apologise and we find ways to prevent it from happening again. When the Taliban kill people, they celebrate and boast they will kill again," she told a news briefing.

Violence has surged in Afghanistan in recent months after the traditional winter lull, with foreign forces launching attacks against Taliban strongholds in the south and east and guerrillas hitting back with suicide bombings.

Nearly 6,000 people have been killed over the past 17 months, about 1,500 of them civilians.

The deaths have sparked street protests calling for President Hamid Karzai's resignation and the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. U.S. forces make up the bulk of the more than 50,000 foreign troops operating in the country.

Faced with resurgent Taliban attacks, growing frustration over corruption and lack of economic development, Karzai has warned that civilian deaths would have dangerous consequences for his government and the troops.


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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