Gov­er­nor urges cau­tion as civil­ian death toll rises

Cape Breton Post - - NATIONAL - BY STEVE RENNIE

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.”

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