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Afghans to bear brunt of conflict escalation

AFGHAN civilians will bear the brunt of an escalation in the Afghan war this year as thousands more American soldiers deploy unless more is done by NATO forces and Taliban militants to protect them, a Red Cross official said yesterday.

Civilian casualties in Afghanistan are "significantly higher" today than a year ago, and an intensification of the conflict could mean consequences for many more will be "dire in the extreme," said Pierre Krahenbuhl, the director of operations for the International Committee of the Red Cross.

"The daily lives of people living in areas where the fighting is taking place are being disrupted, be it because of airstrikes, night raids, suicide attacks, the use of IEDs, or because of intimidation and the population being pressurized or co-opted by the different parties to this conflict," he said.

The United Nations last month said 2,118 civilians died in the Afghan conflict in 2008, a 40-percent jump over 2007. It said insurgent attacks caused 55 percent of those deaths, while United States, NATO or government forces caused 39 percent. The remaining 6 percent were caused in crossfire.

The NATO-led force said yesterday that an operation in Helmand province on February 23 killed eight civilians. A joint NATO-Afghan investigation found that militants used civilian houses and religious facilities for "terrorist activities" in Sangin district when they ambushed a NATO patrol, a statement said.

"Regretfully, as a result of this engagement eight people were killed and 17 people were injured. There were also casualties inflicted on the enemy," the statement said.

Krahenbuhl met with General David McKiernan, commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, and Major General Jeffrey Schloesser, commander of US forces in eastern Afghanistan, over civilian casualties.


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