Report: US, NATO troops kill more Afghan civilians than Taliban in first half of '07
Independent tallies show US and NATO troops were responsible for more civilian deaths in the first half of this year than the Taliban militants they are fighting, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday.
Nearly 600 Afghan civilians have been killed so far this year, and civilian combat deaths increased sharply in the last month, according to the Times. The United Nations counted 314 civilian deaths at the hands of Western-led forces by the end of June, compared with 279 people killed by the Taliban and other militants.
The rate of Western-caused civilian deaths between January and June of this year exceeds the same measure for all of 2006. Human Rights Watch found US and NATO troops killed 230 civilians in Afghanistan last year, according to the Globe and Mail. In that same year, the group found at least 669 Afghan civilians were killed as a result of Taliban attacks.
Military leaders say the comparison is fundamentally unfair because civilian deaths caused by Western forces are inadvertent collateral damage whereas the Taliban militants deliberately target innocent people, the Times reports. And alliance officials say the Taliban is ultimately responsible for many deaths attributed to Western forces because they place civilians in harms way by using them as human shields.
A spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, Maj. John Thomas, told the Times that Western forces don't set out on their missions with the intention of harming Afghan citizens.
"If that does inadvertently happen, it is deeply, deeply regretted," Thomas said.
Counting civilian casualties is an inexact science because Taliban fighters do not wear military uniforms, and neither the US or North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces maintain civilian body counts. But Thomas told the Times that the military did not dispute the civilian death figures, which were cited by Afghan President Hamid Karzai when he recently issued an angry call for caution among Western troops.
"Afghan life is not cheap, and it should not be treated as such," Karzai told reporters in Kabul, according to the Times.
Excerpts from the LA Times:
Human rights groups acknowledge that there are mitigating circumstances. But to the families of victims such as Azizullah the salt merchant, such distinctions are lost in a wave of grief and indignation.
At dawn on June 16, Azizullah went to prayers with his older brother, Mohammed Reza. It was the last time Reza saw his younger brother alive.
At midmorning, Reza received a call on his cellphone from Afghan police saying Azizullah had been wounded, then another saying that he had died, shot by North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops as he sipped a cool drink a few steps from his storefront in a rundown district of Kabul.
"Why? Why?" Reza asked. "They are supposed to protect us, not kill us."
In a communal society such as Afghanistan, "no death is isolated," said Hekmat Karzai, who runs a security think tank in Kabul and is a cousin of the president. "When one person dies, it affects a whole village or clan or tribe. Ultimately, it affects everyone, and there's no escaping that."
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