NATO pledges to retrain forces to stem Afghan civilian deaths
REPORTING FROM KABUL, AFGHANISTAN -- The commander of Western forces in Afghanistan has promised President Hamid Karzai that NATO troops will undergo retraining to lessen the chances of accidentally causing civilian deaths and injuries.
Relations between the Western military and the Afghan government were strained by the reported deaths last week of seven Afghan civilians, six of them children, in Kandahar province. The NATO force expressed regret and pledged a full investigation.
The presidential palace on Tuesday released a letter from U.S. Marine Gen. John Allen to Karzai, expressing condolences for recent casualties and informing him that all units had been ordered to carry out "retraining on our methods of employing force against insurgents while protecting Afghan civilians."
Karzai has long complained that NATO's International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, does not take sufficient care to avoid hurting or killing civilians. Reports by the United Nations and independent groups say the great majority of noncombatant casualties are caused by the Taliban and other insurgent groups, but many Afghans believe foreign troops must be held to a higher standard.
A spokesman for the ISAF confirmed the contents of Allen's letter, which was made public by Karzai at a time when the Afghan government is trying to distance itself from a rancorous dispute between the NATO force and Pakistan over the deaths of at least 24 Pakistani troops in apparent U.S. airstrikes early Saturday.
The American military and NATO, with the requested assistance of Pakistani and Afghan military officials, are investigating the weekend incident. Officials familiar with preliminary findings have said the airstrikes may have been triggered by insurgents firing on coalition forces inside Afghanistan from positions close to Pakistani military outposts along the frontier.
Results of that probe are due by Dec. 23.
-- Laura King
Photo: U.S. Marine Gen. John Allen. Credit: Muhammed Muheisen / Associated Press