South Asia News
NATO says any Afghan civilian casualty "one too many"
May 7, 2009, 13:52 GMT
Brussels - NATO cares about ordinary Afghans and seeks to reduce the number of civilian casualties to as close as 'zero' as possible, the alliance's top military commander said Thursday.
'We really care about civilian casualties, in the sense that we want them to be zero,' said Admiral Giampaolo Di Paola, chairman of NATO's Military Committee in Brussels.
'It is not rhetorical to say that (for NATO), one civilian casualty is one too much. It is something we believe in and one we are trying to achieve,' Di Paola said after talks with alliance chiefs of defence and with Afghanistan's army chief and chief of police.
Di Paola was speaking to reporters in Brussels as hundreds of people took to the streets in western Afghanistan to protest deadly airstrikes by US-led forces that allegedly killed more than 100 civilians, including women and children.
If confirmed, it would be the deadliest incident involving civilian fatalities since the ouster of the Taliban regime in late 2001.
While the airstrikes are to be investigated by the US military, NATO commanders are painfully aware of the fact that Afghans do not always make a distinction between the US mission and NATO's separate International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission in the country.
Compounding the problem is the fact that NATO and US forces on the ground tend to have slightly different rules of engagement.
Last month, NATO released figures estimating that Western and Taliban-led forces between them had killed almost 40 per cent fewer Afghan civilians in the first three months of this year when compared with the same period of 2008.
The 39-per-cent reduction in civilian deaths 'at least in part reflects the increased efforts by international forces' to reduce the body count, NATO spokesman James Appathurai said on April 22.
Di Paola accused the insurgents of instead seeking to maximise the number of casualties and insisted there was no need to change ISAF's rules of engagement on the ground.
'There is no need to change or adjustments to be done,' Di Paola said.
The Italian admiral also dismissed a Taliban statement accusing Western forces of seeking to convert ordinary Afghans to Christianity.
'The Taliban are very good at propaganda. I wouldn't believe a word they say on this,' Di Paola said.
In a statement posted on pro-Taliban websites, the insurgents appealed directly to Pope Benedict XVI to stop Afghan Muslims from being converted or face 'harsh reprisals'.
The statement was issued on the eve of the pope's visit to the Middle East.