Boston Globe | Associated Press | June 3, 2011
KABUL — The top NATO commander in Afghanistan said yesterday that he is committed to reducing the loss of innocent lives to an absolute minimum.
The statement marked the latest attempt by General David Petraeus to ease President Hamid Karzai’s anger over civilian casualties. Karzai exploded in rage after a recent air attack that killed at least nine civilians in Helmand Province in the south.
After that attack, Karzai ordered the US-led coalition to stop bombing homes because too many civilians were being killed. It was Karzai’s strongest statement yet against NATO alliance airstrikes and further complicated a difficult relationship with the Obama administration as it prepares a troop drawdown in the increasingly unpopular war.
In a visit to Khost Province in eastern Afghanistan along the Pakistan border, Petraeus expressed his “absolute commitment to reducing to the absolute minimum the loss of innocent, civilian lives’’ during operations targeting insurgents.
“We share President Karzai’s emotion about this,’’ Petraeus said. “We are here to protect the people, to safeguard them, not to harm them or their property.’’
Petraeus and Karzai are expected to discuss the sensitive issue at a meeting this weekend.
Separately yesterday, NATO said it captured a senior Al Qaeda operative and associate of Osama bin Laden on Wednesday in Balkh Province in northern Afghanistan. NATO did not identify the man but said he was based in Pakistan.