Afghan war unwinnable under Karzai, says rights group

KABUL Mon Jul 12, 2010 10:24am EDT

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KABUL (Reuters) - It would take "a miracle" to win the war and restore viable peace in Afghanistan under the inept government of President Hamid Karzai despite a massive surge in foreign troops, a rights group said on Monday.

The surge had also driven violence to its worst levels since the Taliban's 2001 ousting, with 14 civilians killed or wounded on average each day, Afghanistan Rights Monitor (ARM) said in a new report.

"Contrary to President Barrack Obama's promise that the deployment ... would 'disrupt, dismantle and defeat' Taliban insurgents and their al Qaeda allies in the region, the insurgency has become more resilient, multi-structured and deadly," the group said.

The 30,000-strong troop lift was also clouding U.S. foreign policy objectives, with regional powers such as Pakistan, India and Iran flexing their muscles in the country ahead of an expected U.S. and NATO pullout, starting next year.

Assessing that it would take a miracle to win the war under Karzai, the report (arm.org.af/file.php?id=2) said the crisis of bad governance and inept leadership in Afghanistan had been compounded by a disorganized, half-heartedly committed and concomitantly mistaken international community.

Casualties among NATO and U.S. forces fighting the Taliban hit a record monthly high of over 100 in June, and commanders expect violence to rise amid an anti-insurgent offensive in coming months and as the country prepares for lower house parliamentary elections on September 18.

At least 1,074 civilians had been killed in the conflict this year and more than 1,500 injured, although the number killed in U.S. and NATO airstrikes fell considerably due to tough restrictions driving down troop reliance on air power, ARM said.

Coalition forces spokesman General Josef Blotz said at the weekend that while restrictions would be altered to better protect the 150,000 international troops now in the country, the overall rules of engagement would remain unchanged.

Blotz also defended NATO's record in protecting civilians, and said while foreign troops had killed 42 civilians between June 1 and 10 July, 464 died in insurgent bombings and shootings.

ARM said 61 percent of its 661 recorded civilian deaths this year were due to insurgents who had "little or no respect to the safety and protection of non-combatants."

Improvised bombs, or IEDs, killed 282 civilians, more than any other war activity, followed by insurgent suicide attacks in which 127 civilians lost their lives.

Use of homemade bombs, the Taliban weapon of choice, has now risen to record levels and they are blamed for two-thirds of U.S. and NATO fatalities. More than 300 exploded or were detected before detonation in the last week of June, U.S. defense officials said last week.

"ALARMING NUMBER"

"Because an alarming number of civilians have been killed, wounded and affected by IED attacks, ARM calls on the Afghan government, the United States and NATO, insurgents and other key actors to stop, or at least reduce and control, their production and indiscriminate use," the report said.

U.S. and NATO forces were responsible for 210 civilian deaths from January to June, a fifth of the total and down from 26 percent last year. Many were killed in "violent and barbaric intrusions" during counter-insurgency raids, it said.

Local security forces loyal to the Afghan government, including the army, police and militias, were responsible for 108 civilian deaths during the six-month period.

Afghanistan lacked the basic foundation for a sustainable peace, the report said, including a legitimate and competent leadership, and was entangled in complex regional rivalries.

"Many call 2010 the 'make or break' year given the enhanced military presence and the preplanned political show games. We, however, fear it will be more of a "breaking" year mostly for Afghan civilians who are increasingly falling victim," ARM said.

(Editing by David Fox)

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