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Petraeus Stresses Avoiding Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan

  • Al Pessin

The commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East and Central Asia has called on his troops in Afghanistan to make extra efforts to avoid civilian casualties. General David Petraeus made the comments in an interview for his command's website.

In the video on the U.S. Central Command website, an interviewer says the rules under which U.S. troops are operating during the current Afghanistan offensive are different from those used in Iraq. General Petraeus responds that the rules are the same, but they are being applied differently, with added emphasis on avoiding civilian casualties.

"There's nothing in there that ever prevents a soldier, sailor, airman or marine from getting himself out of a tough fix," said General David Petraeus. "But it is a situation in which you think twice about it, if there is some ambiguity, if there is the chance of innocent civilian loss of life. We can get the Taliban. If we don't get them today, we'll get them tomorrow."

According to the United Nations, 2,412 Afghan civilians died in the conflict last year, a 14 percent increase over the previous year. The U.N. says two thirds of the deaths were caused by insurgent actions. Still, mistakes by U.S. and allied forces that result in civilian casualties cause public outcries and criticism by senior Afghan officials. Last month, an American Special Operations unit killed 27 Afghan civilians in one incident, mistaking them for Taliban fighters.

Partly as a result, the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, brought all Special Operations units in the country under his command. Officials said that was part of an effort to get all allied forces operating under the same rules, with the same attention to civilians General McChrystal has ordered.

His boss, General Petraeus, said in the website interview that all the troops need to understand how their actions in local areas can affect the entire campaign to defeat the Taliban and to convince the people to support the Afghan government.

"We can't have tactical successes that end up being strategic reverses because innocent civilians are killed in the course of those operations," said Petraeus.

Petraeus said when U.S. or allied forces kill civilians, it is not only a tragedy but it is also a propaganda victory for the Taliban. He said the allies and the Afghan government must demonstrate that they will not kill civilians indiscriminately in order to achieve battlefield objectives. He said that is an important part of the effort to convince the people they would have a better future with the Afghan government in firm control of the country, than they would under Taliban rule.