Thursday, March 29, 2007

which story is true?

NATO troops earn resentment of frustrated Afghans
ISAF refutes Reuters’ claim of 60 civilians killed in Kandahar Province in January

NATO troops earn resentment of frustrated Afghans
Mar 27, 2007 David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -
Foreign troops deployed in Afghanistan are beginning to draw the resentment of Afghans fed up with growing civilian casualties and the lack of material progress in their lives, experts say.

Resentment has posed special problems in the south, where villagers who have suffered from Western military firepower have responded to the Taliban's call to arms against foreign troops and the government of President Hamid Karzai, the experts said.

"There is growing resentment because of the kinds of military operations that have been carried out, not because of the international troop presence," Samina Ahmed, South Asia project director for International Crisis Group think tank, said this week in an interview.

Ahmed, who is based in Pakistan and travels frequently to Afghanistan, cited bombing raids based on faulty intelligence that have killed innocent villagers and shootings of innocent civilians by panicky troops as especially damaging to Afghan support for Western forces.

"What has also led to greater resentment is the fact that Kabul is not delivering," she added, referring to the Afghan government's difficulty in providing services to the people.

The United States provides about 27,000 of the 45,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, some in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force and the rest under a separate U.S.-led coalition.

Pentagon and NATO officials cited opinion polls, however, that show a large majority of Afghans favoring foreign troops and only a small fraction of support for the Taliban

"There is no doubt that the population supports the presence of international troops," NATO spokesman James Appathurai said.

Added Pentagon spokesman, Air Force Lt. Col. Todd Vician: "Support for the Taliban has not increased. I think the majority see the Taliban for what they are or what they bring to Afghanistan, which is brutality."


But polling data has also shown Afghan support for international troops slipping in 2006 as the populace has grown less optimistic about the country's direction.

Violence in Afghanistan last year was the worst since U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban in late 2001. About one-quarter of the 4,000 people killed in 2006 were civilians.

NATO, U.S. commanders and Afghan leaders have said the Taliban insurgency cannot be defeated unless reconstruction brings the new jobs and economic progress that were widely anticipated after the former Taliban rulers were ousted.

But David Edwards, a U.S. anthropologist regarded as an expert on the origins of the Taliban, said reconstruction has been overshadowed by rampant corruption, meager international donations and poverty in a country where the unemployment rate is about 40 percent.

"It's important to understand that Americans have come to be seen as an occupying power," Edwards, an author who has traveled widely in Afghanistan, said at a Monday forum sponsored by the Pakistani Embassy in Washington

"It's a way in which the Taliban has come to gain supporters," added Edwards, who said there is evidence that the Taliban pays its members better than Afghanistan's national army pays its soldiers.

The warnings about eroding support came as NATO commanders conducted a spring offensive code-named Operation Achilles against Taliban strongholds in a bid to pre-empt an expected warmer weather seasonal campaign by Islamist militants.

With fighting expected to be heavy again in 2007, Afghans have complained more loudly about the effects of combat as NATO has poured more troops into the effort to thwart the Taliban.

Scores of civilians have died during NATO operations this year. About 60 people, including women and children, were killed by NATO planes during fighting in the southern province of Kandahar in January during an important Muslim holiday.

(Additional reporting by Andrew Gray in Washington, Mark John in Brussels and Terry Friel in Kabul)

ISAF refutes Reuters’ claim of 60 civilians killed in Kandahar Province in January
Release # 2007-249 29 March 2007

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan –
In a story, headlined “NATO Troops earn resentment of frustrated Afghans,” dated 27 March 2007, Reuters reported that “About 60 people including innocent women and children, were killed by NATO planes during fighting in the southern province of Kandahar in January during an important Muslim holiday.” The Reuters story also claims, according to a source, that “panicky” ISAF soldiers have killed innocent people.

A thorough review of both battle damage assessments and claims put forward for January 2007 does not corroborate the numbers reported in the Reuters story. As a result, ISAF refutes the claim made by Reuters.

As for the specific allegation that NATO planes killed 60 innocent Afghans in Kandahar Province in January, it is important to note that ISAF did not launch any major air strike offensives during that month in Kandahar Province. The majority of air strikes in the province of Kandahar occurred in the initial stages of Operation Baaz Tsuka, specifically on 13 and 19 December 2006. During these strikes, our battle damage assessments did not reveal any innocent Afghans killed. Our records do show, however, that ISAF operations may have injured some civilians in December 2006 and these claims, which were filed in January 2007, are still being processed.

ISAF takes extraordinary measures to prevent any type of collateral damage and operates on the principal of avoiding any and all civilian casualties during operations. This has been a long standing practise and ISAF continues to apply this principle rigorously.

It is equally important to note that in addition to conducting battle damage assessments, ISAF works closely with the Government of Afghanistan through a detailed process by which evidence and claims can be put forward by Afghans in cases where innocent people are killed or collateral damage was caused.

“Every Afghan killed in this conflict is one Afghan too many,” stated Major General Ton van Loon, Commander of Regional Command South. “Local

Afghans in areas where we are currently conducting operations have clearly told us that they are essentially held hostage by Taliban extremists. Our operations are therefore planned as such and we take every possible precaution to prevent the accidental killing or injuring of local Afghans. If this means cancelling or delaying operations, then this is what I will continue to do,” he added.

Regarding claims by Reuters that the “panicking” actions of ISAF troops have killed innocent people during battles, ISAF stands firmly behind its troops who, to the contrary, have not only demonstrated courage in the performance of their duty but have repeatedly demonstrated restraint during battles with extremists. ISAF troops demonstrated restraint in occasions such as on 7 February in the Kajaki area where extremists used children to cover their retreat, causing ISAF forces to stop engaging the enemy. Similarly, they showed control in the Garmsir area on 7 March when extremists sought refuge in a Mosque, temporarily causing ISAF forces to cease fighting until extremists started engaging from the Mosque. During the same operation, ISAF troops ceased fire on the enemy who took refuge where innocent Afghans were believed to be residing.

In contrast to the restraint of ISAF forces, suicide attacks targeting Afghan National Security Forces or ISAF troops often kill innocent civilian bystanders. For 2007 alone, these indiscriminate attacks, often launched by extremists in crowded areas, have killed 25 local Afghan civilians and wounded more than 60 others. For the month of March alone, 18 innocent Afghans have been killed and more than 12 innocent Afghans have been wounded as the direct result of enemy improvised explosive device attacks.

ISAF Public Information Office