U.S. commander says Afghan civilian deaths prompt review

08:59, March 17, 2011      

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Commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan David Petraeus on Wednesday said several tragic incidents involving civilian deaths prompted him to order a review of use of force at all levels of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and among attack helicopter air crews.

"We have... sought to ensure that we minimize loss of innocent civilian life in the course of our operations," he told U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee in his testimony on the war in Afghanistan. "I also reemphasized instructions on reducing damage to infrastructure and property to an absolute minimum."

Petraeus noted a recent United Nations study which found civilian casualties resulting from ISAF actions decreased by more than 20 percent in 2010, though the number of coalition forces increased by more than 100,000. But despite the reduction in civilian casualties, he said as transition approaches for Afghan forces to begin taking responsibility for security in their country, ISAF's actions in the coming months will have consequences for years to come, including the caution foreign troops take when civilians could be targeted.

"Counterinsurgents cannot succeed if they harm the people they are striving to protect," said Petraeus.

The coalition has also increased its efforts to enable the Afghan government's work to improve governance, economic development and the provision of basic services, Petraeus said.

Reintegration of reconcilable insurgents is also an important element of the strategy, Petraeus said, noting "we recognize that we and our Afghan partners cannot just kill or capture our way out of the insurgency in Afghanistan." He said some 700 former Taliban have now officially reintegrated with Afghan authorities, and some 2,000 more are in various stages of the reintegration process.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai will announce next week the first locations where security responsibility will transition to Afghan lead, Petraeus said. The pace of transition will be determined by conditions on the ground.

Petraeus is in Washington to brief top U.S. government officials and the Congress on the progress of the Afghanistan war, now in its tenth year. President Barack Obama ordered the deployment of 30,000 additional forces to Afghanistan in late 2009. His plan involves setting July 2011 as the beginning of withdrawal. Petraeus met with Obama Monday to discuss the situation on the ground leading to the drawdown. He gave Senate Armed Services Committee an optimistic assessment of progress on Tuesday, but admitted dangers the military faces before the scheduled July beginning of drawdown.

Source: Xinhua

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