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U.S.: Rules limit unintended Afghan deaths

U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan believe their procedures for avoiding unintended casualties are sufficient despite a series of civilian deaths in recent weeks, a U.S. commander said Tuesday.
/ Source: Reuters

U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan believe their procedures for avoiding unintended casualties are sufficient despite a series of civilian deaths in recent weeks, a U.S. commander said Tuesday.

U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Joseph Votel also said NATO forces had intentionally fired into Pakistan in one recent incident said to have resulted in the killing of civilians.

Dozens of civilians have been reported killed in recent weeks as a result of operations by the country's NATO security force, commanded by a U.S. general, and a separate U.S.-led coalition with a counter-terrorism mandate.

But Votel said both the U.S. military and NATO already had extensive procedures to avoid civilian casualties, including detailed planning and coordination with local officials.

"There's no particularly new procedures that we are using right now. We think the procedures that we have in place are good — they work," he told reporters at the Pentagon by video link from Bagram Air Base near Kabul.

"We have to rely on training, we have to rely on the experience of our leaders out there to make the right decisions on the scene," said Votel, who is NATO's deputy commander in eastern Afghanistan and also has a senior coalition role.

He said many civilian casualties were caused because Taliban insurgents launched attacks in populated areas and used ordinary Afghans and their homes as cover.

Anti-American backlash
The civilian deaths have sparked anger in Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai last week accused NATO and the coalition of "carelessness" and called for greater coordination with Afghan security forces.

More than 230 civilians have been killed this year during operations by foreign and Afghan forces, according to an umbrella body for aid groups in Afghanistan.

Addressing an incident last week in the border area with Pakistan, Votel said the local NATO commander had taken action after identifying a sizable group of insurgents that had come across the frontier into Afghanistan.

"The commander on the ground determined that he needed to continue to address that threat until it was eliminated, and that included firing into areas that were in Pakistan," he said.

Pakistani officials say 10 civilians were killed in the strikes in North Waziristan, opposite Afghanistan's Paktika province. Pakistan publicly urges foreign forces not to carry out operations on its territory or using its airspace.

"With regard to any Pakistan casualties on there, we certainly extend our deepest regret for any casualties that were caused among Pakistan civilians on that side," Votel said.

Pakistan has said that NATO has apologized for the strike and told Pakistani officials the firing was inadvertent.