NATO chief defends Afghan mission after civilian deaths

Last Updated: Tuesday, February 23, 2010 - 11:58

Washington: NATO`s secretary-general defended the war in Afghanistan as the alliance faced Afghan anger over civilian deaths, and the possibility of an imminent withdrawal of Dutch troops from the country.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he had called Afghanistan`s President Hamid Karzai on Monday morning after a NATO air strike killed 27 civilians, including women and a child, in an attack the Afghan government called "unjustifiable."

"There will be bad days," Rasmussen said. "I just spoke to President Karzai and expressed my deep regrets and condolences for the latest incidents where Afghan civilians have lost their lives."

Rasmussen, who spoke at Washington`s Georgetown University, said NATO troops had worked hard to minimize the number of Afghan civilians killed in air strikes after either being mistakenly targeted or caught up in attacks.

"I don`t think that you can be too careful. Every life lost is one life too much," he said.

"It`s not just theory. During the recent years our troops in Afghanistan have succeeded in reducing the number of civilian casualties significantly and we have to continue to minimize the number of civilian casualties."

Reducing the number of Afghan civilians killed by foreign troops has been a key part of the new strategy advanced by the top US commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal.

He issued an apology Monday for the incident in Daykundi province, in which a civilian convoy was reportedly mistaken for a Taliban group -- the third mistaken NATO air strike reported by Afghan officials in a week.

The deaths come as NATO faced a new challenge Monday with news that the Dutch government had collapsed amid disputes about whether it should extend its troop deployment in Afghanistan.


First Published: Tuesday, February 23, 2010 - 11:58

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