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US Commander Says Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan Undermine Military Mission

The commander of U.S. military forces in the Middle East and Central Asia says civilian casualties in Afghanistan undermine the American and NATO mission there.  General David Petraeus made the comments before an audience in Washington.

General Petraeus' remarks came the day after NATO troops opened fire on a bus in southern Afghanistan, killing four civilians and sparking angry anti-American protests.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the killings, saying shooting at a civilian bus violates NATO's commitment to safeguard civilian life.

Without referring to the latest deaths, General Petraeus said such killings undercut the military's mission in Afghanistan. "You cannot achieve your strategic goals, your strategic objectives, if tactical activities result in the loss of innocent civilian life.  It undermines all that you are trying to do," he said.

NATO has expressed deep regret over the latest civilian deaths and a combined NATO-Afghan team is investigating.

The top commander in Afghanistan, U.S. General Stanley McChrystal, has made reducing civilian deaths a major priority as part of the effort to win the loyalty of the Afghan people.

General Petraeus spoke just hours after returning from a trip to Afghanistan and discussed ongoing efforts to reintegrate Taliban insurgents into civilian life. "That particular term means the very high level discussions with Taliban leadership in Afghanistan, there may come a time what that will be productive, in the near term it is more likely that reintegration, the lower and mid-level Taliban, reconciliation is more effective," he said.

President Obama has ordered an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan and Petraeus says about 14,000 have arrived and most of the rest will be on the ground by the end of August.

Petraeus also reiterated concern about the lack of progress in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, saying this continues to have a negative impact in the Middle East. "Our view that the lack of progress towards a comprehensive Mideast peace is indeed something that does very much shape the environment…because what it does is it gives the radicals, the extremists an argument that the only time that they have made progress on that issue is when there has been say an intifada or some violent response," he said.

In Iraq, General Petraeus says his forces are on target to reduce their presence from the current level of 96,000 to 50,000 by the end of August.  

Petraeus says despite recent deadly bombings in Iraq, violence is substantially down from previous levels.

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