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Afghan Ambassador Calls for More Efforts to Protect Civilians
By Al Pessin

Voice of America

Washington - The Afghan ambassador to the United States says U.S. and NATO forces in his country need to do more to avoid killing civilians as they battle Taleban insurgents. The ambassador spoke an interview with VOA Pentagon Correspondent Al Pessin.

Ambassador Said Tayeb Jawad spoke before the latest air strike killed civilians in Helmand Province Friday, but after other attacks had caused highly-publicized civilian casualties elsewhere in Afghanistan."Of course, we have asked both NATO and U.S. forces to change their procedures, but the fact is that this is a problem and an issue that both the Afghan government and the international forces are facing in Afghanistan," he said.

Ambassador Jawad says the problem is that Taleban fighters hide among civilians, something he says is not likely to change. Therefore, the ambassador says, the United States and NATO need to change the things they can change, particularly, he says, they need to address what he sees as some critical shortages. "When NATO is short of helicopters and soldiers and other (things), they have to rely on high altitude bombing, which is inaccurate and causes actually a high degree of civilian deaths," he said.

Ambassador Jawad says in addition to more helicopters to make more precise air strikes and deliver troops, he believes NATO and the United States need to send more special operations troops that can operate in the villages, do a better job of gathering intelligence in remote areas and coordinate better with Afghan forces.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has called U.S. and NATO forces "careless" in their approach to the safety of Afghan civilians.

In the most recent incident, Afghan officials say a U.S. air strike killed 45 civilians in southern Helmand Province. The officials say 62 Taleban fighters who had taken refuge in a village were also killed. A U.S. military official said he believes the civilian death toll is much lower, and expressed regret for the casualties.

Last week, before the latest incident, the chief of operations for U.S. and NATO forces in eastern Afghanistan said allied procedures for avoiding civilian casualties are adequate. The officer, Brigadier General Joseph Votel, said allied forces are doing their best to avoid civilian casualties, and succeed in hundreds of operations. "With every operation we do, we always do a very good look at the area in which we're going to operate and identify those areas where a civilian population might be affected. We hold our commanders to a high level of responsibility out on the battlefield," he said.

General Votel says civilian casualties are "never acceptable," but he blames the Taleban for putting the civilians in danger.

Ambassador Jawad agrees with that, but he says because the Taleban is not likely to change its tactics, U.S. and NATO forces need to make extra efforts to protect civilians "The most important asset we have in Afghanistan is the support and the good will of the Afghan people for the military mission. And if you are not careful we risk the danger of losing that support," he said.

The ambassador says he does not doubt the sincerity of U.S. and NATO officers, but he says they need to take practical steps to do a better job of protecting Afghan civilians.

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