Civilian deaths mar Afghan offensive

An Afghan National Army soldier fires a rocket-propelled greneade in the Helmand Province (ISAFMedia)

An Afghan National Army soldier fires a rocket-propelled grenade in Helmand province

A highly-touted offensive to clear Taliban insurgents from a stronghold in Afghanistan’s Helmand province has been marred by reports of numerous civilian deaths.

Over the course of two days, ISAF troops have been involved in as many as five separate incidents with civilians, leaving up to 20 non-combatants dead.  This includes reports of up to twelve civilian deaths, including those of a number of children, in a rocket attack.  Accounts differ as to whether or not the civilian home was the intended target of the rocket.

Soldiers taking part in the offensive have complained that Taliban fighters are taking advantage of new NATO rules of engagement meant to better protect civilians by disappearing into groups of locals or hiding in civilian houses.

Operation Moshtarak was meant to be as “civilian-friendly” as possible, in order to build trust between coalition forces and the local population.  Leaflets were dropped in the days before the attack to warn the local population of the coming offensive; many civilians remained in the area, however.  The Chief of Britain’s Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Jock Stirrup, called the botched rocket attack and resulting deaths a “very serious setback” for the operation’s goal of gaining the support of local Afghans.

Avoiding civilian casualties has been declared a major priority in coalition operations in the past year.

Photo by ISAF Media

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