ALMOST from the start of the Afghanistan campaign the difficulty of fighting the Taliban without also putting at risk innocent Afghan civilians has loomed large. President Karsai has frequently complained to Nato and US commanders about civilian casualties and both General McChrystal and General Petraeus have issued orders which sometimes have left their troops feeling they were fighting with one hand tied behind their back. The United Nations reported yesterday that civilian deaths in Afghanistan rose by one-third in the first half of 2010 in comparison to the same period in 2009; the total was 1'271 deaths, and 1'997 injuries. However the report needs careful interpretation: Nato and Afghan government forces were responsible for 386 of the number and the Taliban for the balance of almost 2'500. A significant factor in the reduction of casualties caused by Nato action is the sharp reduction in aerial attacks. It is less easy to understand why the Taliban should be responsible for killing and wounding so many Afghan civilians whose help they need to carry out their particular kind of warfare. One part of the UN report shows that in the NATO/US operation to clear out the Taliban from Marja in central Helmand last February 61 civilians lost their lives, with both sides being responsible for about 30. Every civilian death diminishes the cause of NATO and the US, said General Petraeus last week. Does the same apply to deaths inflicted by the Taliban?
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