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Karzai pleads for civilian safety

Sun., Feb. 21, 2010

KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Saturday made an emotional appeal for coalition troops to strive to prevent civilian deaths as a major offensive in the south by U.S., British and Afghan troops entered its second week.

The president’s remarks, in a speech to Afghan lawmakers, came as Western military officials announced that troops involved in the fighting for the Taliban stronghold of Marjah had shot and killed an Afghan man a day earlier, mistakenly believing he was menacing a patrol with a makeshift bomb.

NATO says 16 civilians have been accidentally killed by Western troops in the Marjah offensive, which began in the early hours of Feb. 13. Afghan human rights groups put noncombatant deaths at about two dozen.

Thousands of Afghan civilians, frightened by the fighting, have fled their homes in and around the town and are sheltering elsewhere in Helmand province. But many residents say insurgents have prevented them from leaving, warning there are buried bombs everywhere.

Karzai, addressing parliament as it opened its winter session, held up a picture of an 8-year-old girl he said was the only surviving member of a family of 12 killed when NATO rockets hit a home on the second day of the offensive.

“We need to reach the point where there are no civilian casualties,” the Afghan president said.

U.S. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the commander of Western forces in Afghanistan, ordered troops to exercise all possible care. Field commanders say they are doing their best to follow strict rules of engagement.


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