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Civilian toll at NATO hands riles Karzai

From the Associated Press

President Hamid Karzai accused NATO and U.S.-led troops Saturday of carelessly killing scores of Afghan civilians and warned that the fight against resurgent Taliban militants could fail unless foreign forces showed more restraint.

“Afghan life is not cheap, and it should not be treated as such,” Karzai said in an angry rebuke.

In the last 10 days, more than 90 civilians have been killed by airstrikes and artillery fire targeting Taliban insurgents, Karzai said. The mounting toll is sapping the authority of the Western-backed Afghan president, who has pleaded repeatedly with U.S. and NATO commanders to consult Afghan authorities during operations and show more restraint.

“Several times in the last year, the Afghan government tried to prevent civilian casualties, but our innocent people are becoming victims of careless operations,” Karzai said at a news conference in his palace in Kabul, the capital.

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In one of the incidents he lamented, police said that NATO airstrikes had killed 25 civilians along with 20 militants who fired on alliance and Afghan troops in the southern province of Helmand. NATO blamed insurgents for hiding among civilians and contended that troops had the right to defend themselves.

The casualties listed by Karzai bring the number of civilians killed by NATO or U.S.-led military operations this year to 211, according to an Associated Press tally of figures provided by Afghan and foreign officials and witnesses, compared with 172 civilians killed by militant attacks.

“President Karzai has a right to be disappointed and angry,” said Nick Lunt, a NATO spokesman. “We need to do better.”

Earlier Saturday, Pakistan said a rocket hit a house in its territory, killing nine civilians, during a battle in which NATO and U.S.-led forces killed about 60 suspected Taliban fighters in eastern Afghanistan.

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