Tags: Afghan | war | offensive | Taliban

U.S. Downplays Afghan Civilian Casualties

Tuesday, 16 February 2010 10:00 AM

U.S. and Afghan commanders braced for stiffer Taliban resistance and ramped up the public-relations effort as U.S.-led forces pushed ahead with a major offensive into the southern Afghan town of Marjah.

The coalition said at least 15 Afghan civilians have been killed since the operation kicking off the U.S. surge began Saturday, but U.S. commanders said that toll hasn't cost them the ability to win local support.

At a briefing with field commanders Monday, top allied commander U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal stressed the importance of getting the word out that a rocket that killed 12 civilians on Sunday hadn't missed its target, as previously reported, but hit a house from which coalition soldiers were taking fire. Unknown to the men who called the strike, there were civilians inside, officials said

"We know the truth in this room right now and we need to make sure it gets out," he said.

It was the type of incident Gen. McChrystal has sought to avoid by tightening the rules of engagement, a move that has sharply reduced the overall level of civilian casualties. Adding to the challenge, insurgent fighters in at least one incident Monday used women and children to carry weapons and shield their attacks on coalition forces.

Marjah, with 75,000 residents, is the last Taliban bastion in the central Helmand River Valley. The alliance has committed some 15,000 Afghan, U.S. and British troops to an effort to oust the Taliban from Marjah and surrounding areas, with an eye to bringing the Afghan government back to the town.

The strategy publicly puts protecting Afghans first and emphasizes the role of governance and effective civilian administration, while special forces work to pick off hard-core Taliban insurgents. The strategy also plays up the role of Afghanistan's fledgling armed forces and of the government in Kabul.

In the battle for control of Marjah—the biggest coalition offensive since the Taliban government fell in2001—insurgents appeared to be making their fiercest stand at the central Koru Chareh bazaar and a dense residential area the Marines dubbed the Pork Chop, for its shape.

While in much of the town insurgents used hidden explosives and hit-and-run attacks to try to slow the coalition's advance, in the Koru Chareh area the insurgents launched coordinated attacks that last several hours.

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Tuesday, 16 February 2010 10:00 AM
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