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NATO vows fewer deaths of civilians

KABUL, Afghanistan -- NATO said yesterday that it killed too many Afghan civilians during fighting last year against resurgent Taliban militants, but that the Western alliance was working to change that in 2007.

The acknowledgment came one day after President Hamid Karzai's latest plea for foreign forces to use maximum caution.

"The single thing that we have done wrong and we are striving extremely hard to improve on is killing innocent civilians," Brigadier Richard E. Nugee, the chief spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force, told a news conference.

NATO forces were accused of killing dozens of civilians last year in airstrikes, battles, and other shootings, prompting Karzai to issue several pleas for international forces to use greater caution in their operations.

Still, Nugee said NATO forces had killed far fewer civilians than the Taliban, which launched a record number of roadside and suicide bombs last year.

"There is absolutely no comparison to be made," he said. "The Taliban are killing significant numbers of their own people and showing no remorse at all."

Militants launched 117 suicide attacks in 2006, about a sixfold increase over 2005, killing 206 Afghan civilians, 54 Afghan security personnel, and 18 NATO soldiers, according to NATO numbers.

Karzai, in a statement Tuesday, expressed "deep regret" over the deaths of two civilians in Nangarhar province a few days earlier. The Afghan Interior Ministry had said foreign troops were involved, although a NATO spokesman, Major Dominic Whyte, said no NATO or US-led coalition soldiers were responsible.

"Once again, I urge the Afghan and international forces to ensure greater coordination between themselves and to practice maximum caution during their anti-terrorist operations so that civilians are not harmed," Karzai said.

NATO airstrikes in the Panjwayi district of southern Kandahar province in October reportedly killed dozens of civilians, including 20 members of one family, according to Afghan authorities.

A joint Afghan-NATO investigation into those airstrikes has never been released. The New York Times has reported previously that the investigation found that 31 civilians were killed.

After the October airstrikes, Human Rights Watch said NATO wasn't doing enough to prevent civilian casualties in Afghanistan.

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