NATO troops ordered to do more to avoid civilian casualties

NATO troops in Afghanistan have been ordered to behave in a way that would win the support of the Afghan people by avoiding civilian casualties and minimizing damage to property, said the alliance on Wednesday.

In a "tactical directive" issued by International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Commander Gen. David McKiernan, the NATO troops were told not to take Afghan popular support for granted. They were also told to show respect for the Afghan people, their culture, religion and customs, Xinhua reported.

The directive was dated on Dec. 30, 2008, but was only made public on Wednesday.

In the directive, Gen. McKiernan asked commanders to ensure troops are properly trained to minimize the need to resort to deadly force. Signals, signs and warnings must be unambiguous and repeated to ensure the safety of innocent civilians.

Commanders were also asked to demonstrate proportionality, restraint and utmost discrimination in engagement.

Good tactical judgment, necessity and proportionality are to drive every action and engagement; minimizing civilian casualties is of paramount importance," reads the directive.

The commander also vowed to have immediate investigations into civilian casualties and damage, together with Afghan authorities.

"Reducing to a minimum civilian casualties is not only a humanitarian imperative and a human imperative, it is also essential to maintaining public support for the presence of international forces," NATO spokesman James Appathurai told reporters on Wednesday.

Under the directive, unless there is clear and identified danger from a building, all searches and entries of Afghan homes, mosques, religious sites or places of cultural significance must be led by Afghan security forces. All responses must be proportionate and the utmost care should be taken to minimize damage.

NATO troops are ordered to conduct combined operations with the Afghan security forces as much as possible. "ISAF independent operations must be the exception," reads the directive.

NATO said, however, the Taliban are causing a far higher number of civilian casualties than troops of the alliance.

Appathurai said insurgents were responsible for six times as many civilian casualties as ISAF in Agust 2008, five times in September, four times in October, and 20 times in November.

He said insurgents were responsible for 80 percent of civilian casualties in Afghanistan and that their attitude toward civilian casualties differed greatly from that of NATO troops.

Appathurai refused to give the exact figures, saying that the count might not be 100 percent accurate.

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