Afghans blaming NATO troops for rise in civilian deaths

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Kabul, Aug.14 (ANI): Though American and NATO forces are using the alarming spike in Afghan civilian deaths in 2010 to denounce the Taliban to win popular support for an increased presence, ordinary Afghans have largely rejected this good guy-bad guy narrative and continue blaming the civilian deaths on the international forces, claim experts who have studied the issue.

A United Nations report issued this week said that Afghan civilian casualties have risen by 31 percent this year largely because of an increase in insurgent violence.

"What we found was that regardless of the region, province, education level or political views, in many cases Afghans blamed international forces as much as the insurgents for the increase," the Washington Post quoted Erica Gaston, a human rights lawyer focusing on civilian casualties for the Open Society Institute, as saying.

Afghans contend that foreign troops are not doing enough to protect them; and are ensconced behind fortified walls and bulletproof vehicles, while residents are out in the open. They also say that the presence of foreigners in their neighborhoods brings unwanted attention from insurgents.

According to the paper, this public reaction has vexed military officials, who issue several announcements weekly about civilians killed by insurgents.

Military officials said the forces' visibility makes it easier for aggrieved Afghans to find an outlet for their anger.

"A lot of Afghans will come to coalition forces alleging civilian casualties that we caused. This is to be expected. We are the only identifiable force. The insurgents aren't," said Lt. Campbell Spencer, who works with the military's Civilian Casualty Tracking Cell.

Gaston said the military was taking the correct approach by fine-tuning aerial bombings and reducing night raids on homes. But by pushing deeper into Taliban-controlled areas, she said, international forces are causing more chaos.

Spencer said that the Taliban has taken to holding Afghan civilians as hostages to make it more difficult for the forces to attack without killing innocent people.

"It's a great idea in theory, but in practice it is enormously risky to civilians," Gaston said. (ANI)

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