Rights group raps troops for dangers to civilians
Human rights watch also criticized the Taliban for endangering residents.
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- An international human rights group criticized NATO-led troops in Afghanistan, saying their tactics increasingly endanger civilians and are turning the population against the Western alliance.
NATO's top commander apologized Saturday for civilian deaths caused by fighting between Taliban militants and NATO forces earlier in the week, but said insurgents endanger civilians by hiding among them.
"Sadly, in asymmetric warfare, when you're battling an insurgency, typically the insurgents do not play by the same rules that we would like to play by," U.S. Gen. James L. Jones said.
A purported statement by the Taliban leadership, meanwhile, said the hardline militia has ruled out talks with President Hamid Karzai's government as long as foreign troops remain in the country.
Critical all round
The New York-based Human Rights Watch complained Friday that NATO's recent operations have killed dozens of civilians, but it also criticized the Taliban and other insurgents for putting civilians at risk "by using populated areas to launch attacks on NATO and Afghan government forces."
"While NATO forces try to minimize harm to civilians, they obviously are not doing enough," said Sam Zarifi, the group's Asia research director. "NATO's tactics are increasingly endangering the civilians they are supposed to be protecting and turning the local population against them."
He spoke on the same day that the International Red Cross urged all sides in the Afghan conflict to spare civilians.
Jones, the NATO commander, expressed regret for civilian deaths but said that Taliban fighters use civilians as human shields and that that in the heat of battle it can be difficult to separate the two.
The death of a civilian "is something that causes anybody in uniform to lose a lot of sleep," Jones said at a news conference at Bagram, the largest U.S. base in Afghanistan.
His comments came four days after clashes between NATO-led troops and insurgents in the south that Afghan officials say killed 30 to 80 civilians, including women and children. NATO said its initial investigation found 12 civilians killed.
The 32,000-strong NATO-led force took command of security operations in Afghanistan last month. The alliance has been battling resurgent Taliban militants in the south and east in the worst upsurge of violence since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion ousted the Taliban.
A Taliban statement e-mailed to The Associated Press by purported militia spokesman Muhammad Hanif dismissed Karzai's offer for talks Friday and called his administration a "puppet government." Hanif's exact ties to Taliban leaders are unclear, and it was not possible to verify the statement's authenticity.
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