Petraeus issues new rules to avoid civilian casualties in Afghan
Last Updated: Wednesday, August 04, 2010, 23:05
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 "operational security".

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.


First Published: Wednesday, August 04, 2010, 23:05

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