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New Taliban code: Don't kill civilians, don't take ransom

The 60-page code of conduct, issued in the runup to Aug. 20 elections, urges fewer suicide bombings. US and Afghan officials say it's propaganda.

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US commanders in Afghanistan aren't the only ones worried that civilian deaths are costing them hearts and minds. The Taliban, which has planted bombs in schools and occasionally burned its opponents alive, has put out a new code of conduct for militants that appears to be an attempt to project a softer image to the Afghan people.

The little blue booklet, "The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan's Rules for Mujahideen," is sort of a Scouts codee for the Taliban. Approved by Mullah Omar, titular head of the Afghan Taliban. Mujahideen or "holy warriors" are urged not to discriminate on the basis of ethnicity and to always behave "properly" with civilians. Suicide-bombing should only be used on high-value targets, and avoiding civilian casualties is paramount, the booklet says.

"Every member of the Mujahideen must do their best to avoid civilian deaths, civilian injuries and damage to civilian property. Great care must be taken," the booklet urges Taliban fighters. "Suicide attacks should only be used on high and important targets. A brave son of Islam should not be used for lower and useless targets."

Yet on Friday, the United Nations reported surging civilian casualties in Afghanistan and said that in the first six months of the year Taliban fighters were responsible for 595 civilian deaths (as opposed to 309 civilians killed by US and allied forces), up from 495 in the same period last year.

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