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Air war costs NATO Afghan supporters

An increase in air strikes has led to more innocent deaths as Taliban fighters use civilians as human shields.

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At a large gathering with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in this southern city last Tuesday, Abdul Ghafar sat among hundreds in the audience, clutching a piece of paper. On it were the names of 20 members of his family killed two months ago in a NATO airstrike.

"This was my uncle's family. Eleven children, six women, and three innocent men were killed. He lost everyone but one small girl," he said. Mr. Ghafar was hoping to receive compensation from the Afghan government. "We got nothing," he said.

Ghafar's extended family in the southern Panjwai district are among the nearly 4,000 people killed since the beginning of 2006 in a Taliban resurgence that is using civilians as human shields against escalating NATO air attacks.

The US-based Human Rights Watch estimates that more than 1,000 of those killed were civilians. A recent spate of suicide bombings here has stoked public anger even further.

The increased violence has left NATO generals begging for more troop contributions from reluctant member nations. Just Sunday, the French defense minister announced plans to withdraw the 200 special forces troops deployed under US command in southeastern Afghanistan.

But with so few boots on the ground, the increased reliance on air power has led to thousands of civilian deaths. The devastating air offenses are undermining support for the Afghan government, say human rights workers and Afghan officials, and are turning public opinion in the four southern provinces of Afghanistan against NATO forces, who took command of the south from the US in August.


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