Thousands of Afghans shouting "Death to America!" protested the deaths of children Thursday, the latest in a string of cases in which international forces have been blamed for civilian deaths.
KABUL — Thousands of Afghans shouting “Death to America!” protested the deaths of children Thursday, the latest in a string of cases in which international forces have been blamed for civilian deaths.
U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal has ordered troops to use airstrikes judiciously and fire cautiously to reduce civilian casualties. Still, each new report of civilians killed causes anger that highlights a growing impatience with coalition forces’ inability to secure the nation.
There are fears the problem could get worse with 37,000 U.S. and NATO reinforcements starting to stream into the country as part of a military buildup.
More civilians die at the hands of insurgents, yet any time innocent victims are killed, the Taliban waste no time in blaming foreigners.
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“Every time the Taliban kills civilians, nothing happens. There is no protest. There is nothing,” said Hroon Mir, an independent political analyst in Kabul. “But whenever there are civilian casualties from NATO or Afghan forces, then there is a reaction.”
President Hamid Karzai has not been shy about denouncing the deaths, sometimes before investigations can conclude whether civilians or extremists were killed.
Karzai said he would speak out on the issue at a conference about Afghanistan on Jan. 28 in London.
The United Nations reports that 2,021 civilians were killed in the first 10 months of last year, the latest figures available. Of the total, nearly 1,400 were blamed on insurgents and 465 on U.S. and other pro-government forces, the U.N. said.
NATO, which also tracks civilian deaths, said international forces caused 190 civilian deaths last year and wounded 344 noncombatants. NATO reported that insurgents were responsible for 1,011 civilian deaths and the wounding of 2,407 civilians.
The precise death toll often matters less than the Afghan public’s perception.
On Wednesday, an explosion tore through a group of children gathered around foreign soldiers visiting a U.S.-funded road project in Nangarhar province, east of Kabul. Afghan officials said four children were killed. NATO said two died.
Minutes after the blast, local residents were accusing U.S. forces of throwing a grenade into the crowd, even though several international troops were among the wounded. The Afghan Interior Ministry later released a statement saying the explosion occurred when a passing police vehicle hit a mine.
Still, an estimated 5,000 protesters demonstrated against the deaths Thursday on a road between Kabul and Jalalabad in Nangarhar. They waved a banner condemning the attack, set fire to an effigy of President Obama and chanted “Long live Islam!” and “Death to Obama!”