Kabul: General David Petraeus has
issued new rules to troops in Afghanistan, telling them to
"redouble" efforts to avoid civilian deaths -- seen as a
crucial issue in winning the increasingly unpopular war.
The head of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan told
commanders he believed the counter-insurgency strategy was
bearing fruit but warned that any civilian casualties risked
losing the battle to win Afghan hearts and minds.
"We must continue -- indeed, redouble -- our
efforts to reduce the loss of innocent civilian life to an
absolute minimum. Every Afghan civilian death diminishes our
cause," he said in the directive released by NATO today.
"If we use excessive force or operate contrary to
our counter-insurgency principles, tactical victories may
prove to be strategic setbacks," he said in the directive,
which replaces rules issued to troops in July 2009.
The four-star general, credited with turning around
the Iraq war, emphasised the need to partner Afghan troops at
all times and to make sure that no civilians are present
before using force, except in cases of self-defence.
Petraeus took over command of more than 140,000
coalition troops in Afghanistan on July 4 from US General
Stanley McChrystal, who was sacked for showing disdain for US
administration officials in a magazine interview.
McChrystal`s own combat rules, also focused on
minimizing civilian casualties, drew praise from the Afghan
government, but there were complaints by troops who said their
hands were sometimes tied.
Petraeus had pledged to review those rules and in
his new directive he appeared to have updated guidelines on
self-defence, but some details were not released due to
Civilian casualties are hugely controversial in the
nearly nine-year Afghan war. Reducing the number of such
incidents is seen as crucial to a US-led counter-insurgency
strategy designed to end the conflict.
President Hamid Karzai made his own plea to troops
on Wednesday, following the release of Petraeus` guidelines.
"Civilian casualties under any circumstances are
not acceptable. Afghan and international forces must employ
necessary precautions to avoid them and make this a top
priority in operations," he said in a statement.
The statement also addressed a dispute between NATO
forces over an incident in volatile Helmand province in which
Karzai alleged that coalition troops had killed 52 civilians
in a rocket attack in Sangin district on July 23.