Governor urges caution as civilian death toll rises
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Afghan and foreign troops will continue to wage the largest offensive since the fall of the Taliban even as the civilian death toll rises, says a key political figure in Afghanistan’s volatile south.
But the governor of Helmand province, where coalition forces are battling the insurgents, is urging military commanders to be “much more careful” after more than a dozen civilians were killed in the fighting.
A spokesman for Gov. Gulab Mangal said Tuesday many of the same locals coalition forces are fighting to protect were angered by a spate of civilian deaths in recent days.
“People were upset about civilian casualties,” Mateen Zakil said.
“But they were also glad about the operation and they welcomed the operation because they were saying ... if nine or 12 civilians have been killed, other thousands of civilians are going to be freed from the current enemy.”
Three Afghan civilians were killed in three separate incidents in Nad Ali district in Helmand province during the offensive, NATO said Tuesday.
Those deaths came after two errant U.S. missiles crashed into a house on the outskirts of the town of Marjah on Sunday and killed 12 people, half of them children.
Afghan officials have said three Taliban fighters were in the house at the time of the attack.
But Zakil told The Canadian Press the governor has warned coalition forces they need to be more careful as the standoff with the insurgents intensifies.
“The governor is urging the coalition forces and also the Afghan forces ... to be much more careful with using the air support, and to be much more careful about civilians, to identify who is the civilian and who is the enemy,” Zakil said.
The warning echoes Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s earlier call for troops to be “extra cautious while conducting operations to avoid hurting civilians.”
Still, the governor has given no thought to calling off the biggest joint operation since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, Zakil said, even if civilian deaths soar.
“The operation is not going to be stopped.”