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Clinton: NATO Committed to Reducing Afghan Civilian Deaths

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during a news conference at the US embassy in Islamabad, May 27, 2011 (file photo)

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during a news conference at the US embassy in Islamabad, May 27, 2011 (file photo)

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday NATO allies are committed to reducing civilian casualties in the Afghan conflict, where she said most civilian deaths are the work of Taliban insurgents. She spoke after a warning by Afghan President Hamid Karzai that he might curb NATO operations because of non-combatant deaths.

Clinton is reaffirming NATO’s commitment to limiting civilian casualties in Afghan combat operations, while saying the Taliban is responsible for the “vast majority” of non-combatant deaths and injuries.

The secretary spoke at a joint press event with Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota after a warning by Karzai that NATO would be considered an “occupying force” in his country if it doesn't halt airstrikes on Afghan homes.

The issue has long been a major irritant in relations between Karzai and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, ISAF.

Tensions flared again this week after airstrikes, responding to an attack on an ISAF ground patrol, killed at least nine people, including children in the southern province of Helmand.

Clinton said it is a “tragic fact” that some civilian casualties are unavoidable in a conflict like the one in Afghanistan. She said every such incident is thoroughly investigated, however, and that allied commander General David Petraeus has pledged to work to reduce the casualty toll.

“We’re going to continue to do everything we can to express our deep regret when a terrible incident occurs, and civilians are injured or killed," said Clinton. "And I would only underscore that that stands in stark contrast to the indiscriminate killing, the suicide bombing, the IED’s - the improvised explosive devices - that are used by the insurgents without regard for any human life.”

Brazil has been an emerging force in global affairs and Clinton’s talks with her Brazilian counterpart, in addition to bilateral and Hemisphere issues, also covered political upheaval in the Middle East and North Africa.

Clinton sounded a cautious note about plans by Egypt’s interim authorities to put ousted former president Hosni Mubarak on trial for the deaths of political protesters. She said such a trial would be emotionally charged and that it must be conducted with the highest legal standards. At the same time, she expressed concern about recent moves by the Egyptian military against critics.

“We are keeping very close watch on events in Egypt," she said. "We’re disturbed by the reports of efforts to crack down on journalists and bloggers and judges and others, which we don’t think is in keeping with the direction that the Egyptian people were heading when they started out in Tahrir Square.”

On the widening political strife in Yemen, Clinton said the conflict cannot be expected to end unless President Ali Abdullah Saleh and close associates heed international calls to “move out of the way” and allow a transition to political and economic reform.