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Insurgent Attacks on Afghan Civilians Rise Sharply

09 May 2007

A U.S. military commander has apologized for the killings of Afghan civilians by U.S. Marines in early March. Colonel John Nicholson told reporters in Afghanistan that he met Tuesday (May 8th) with the families of 19 people who were killed and 50 who were wounded in the violence. A U.S. investigation found the Marines fired indiscriminately in the incident, killing and wounding Afghan civilians, after a suicide bomber attacked the Marines' convoy near Jalalabad.

Meanwhile, a report issued last month by the independent group Human Rights Watch finds that civilian deaths from insurgent attacks in Afghanistan have increased dramatically over the past 15 months. The report finds many of those deaths have resulted from the refusal of anti-government forces to respect internationally agreed upon laws of war. For producer George Dwyer, VOA's Jim Bertel has more on the report's findings.

Titled "The Human Cost: The Consequences of Insurgent Attacks in Afghanistan," the new report documents how anti-government forces in Afghanistan have dramatically stepped up suicide bombings and other attacks against civilians since early 2006. Human Rights Watch Asia Director Sam Zarifi helped prepare the report.

"We've seen six times as many suicide bombings in 2006 than 2005 and this is a tactic that had been previously unseen in Afghanistan. There is a new, more radical culture among the Taliban and among Hezb-e Islami that increasingly doesn't take into account the life of Afghan civilians," said Zarifi.

Based on interviews with surviving victims and the families of attack victims, and a survey of records, the report documents how insurgent forces have repeatedly singled out non-combatants, or posed as civilians to launch attacks on International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and Afghan forces. Such actions, says the report, violate established international protocols on the conduct of war.

"This is a major violation of the laws of war,” Zarifi explained, “because the whole point of the laws of war is to distinguish between civilians and combatants, because when reprisals come NATO or Government forces cannot distinguish between civilians and the Taleban or Hezb-e Islami, and as a result that places civilians in greater jeopardy."

Zarifi says Human Rights Watch will not hesitate to call ISAF and Afghan forces to account when their actions threaten civilian lives. But, he says, his group has found no evidence that either of those forces has ever intentionally targeted civilians.

"We have criticized international and Afghan forces where it is appropriate but it is the Taliban that are responsible for the vast majority of civilian deaths."

Those targeting civilians, says Zarifi, do not intend to win sympathy for their cause. Their aim is to terrorize the entire civilian population of Afghanistan in the hope it will lose faith in the government's ability to protect it.

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