French army claims responsibility for four civilian deaths in Afghanistan
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The French military has admitted that its troops in Afghanistan accidentally killed four civilians in an April 6 missile attack targeting insurgents.
The French military on Thursday admitted that its troops accidentally killed four civilians in the eastern Afghan province of Kapisa in the first known French incident involving civilian casualties in Afghanistan.
The incident occurred on April 6, when a Milan (anti-tank) missile strike killed four civilians during a joint mission by French military and Afghan security forces, French military spokesman Christophe Prazuck told FRANCE 24 on Thursday.
According to Prazuck, the joint French-Afghan mission came under fire from insurgents and was given the authorisation to fire since there were no civilians visible at the scene of the attack.
“Our investigation shows that near where the insurgents were ... under a tree out of the observer's view ... there was a group of young Afghans. Several of them were wounded ... some of them mortally wounded ... by shrapnel from a Milan anti-tank missile that was fired at seven insurgents," said Prazuck.
The incident came days after the Pentagon released its much-awaited progress report on the security situation in Afghanistan for the period from October 2009 to March 2010.
Entitled the “Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan”, the 152-page report emphatically states that civilian casualties constitute a “strategic issue that will impact the progress of the international mission in Afghanistan”.
The battle for hearts and minds
The issue of civilian casualties has dogged the NATO mission in Afghanistan, with senior military commanders acknowledging that their operations in the insurgent-plagued country were as much a military campaign as a propaganda war to win the hearts and minds of ordinary Afghans.
The Taliban have frequently seized this issue to drum up support for their movement, especially in the southern and eastern regions of the country.
Last year, the Taliban leadership, comprised of close associates around Taliban chief Mullah Omar, issued a “code of conduct” advising members to avoid civilian casualties in what was clearly a move to sway Afghan public opinion.
NATO commanders fear the public anger over civilian casualties could ultimately undermine their broad counterinsurgency strategy. As part of the effort to win over Afghan public opinion, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, US Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has issued orders limiting the use of airstrikes and night raids.
Managing the consequences of civilian casualties
The management and reaction to civilian casualties has also come under the spotlight following the September 4 airstrike by German troops in the northern Afghan province of Kunduz, which killed dozens of civilians.
A top German general and a senior German defence ministry official resigned after a newspaper reported that a secret military report pointed to civilian casualties even as German military officials were denying such reports.
Thursday’s incident came as a prominent Afghan MP, Safia Siddiqi said NATO troops stormed her home in the southern province of Nangahar and shot dead one of her relatives during an overnight raid. Siddiqi was not at home during the raid.
The incident sparked angry protests on Thursday, with protesters carrying the body into the streets and scores of people shouting anti-US and anti-government slogans.
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