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by
Reuters

Civilian Deaths Rise as Afghan Fight Intensifies

by
Rob Taylor

Afghans protest deadly US raids, civilian deaths. (File photo)

KABUL - Protesters chanted slogans
against foreign forces and Afghan President Hamid Karzai after U.S.
troops killed two civilians in a pre-dawn raid Wednesday in the
northern city's outskirts.

NATO
also admitted killing six people with stray artillery Thursday, a day
after an airstrike accidentally killed five Afghan soldiers.

Insurgent
gunmen also killed 11 Pakistani tribesmen near the eastern Afghan
border, opening fire on their bus, while a bomb placed on a motorbike
killed one civilian at a bazaar in the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar.

Civilian
casualties and friendly fire deaths among Afghan security forces have
been a frequent irritant between Karzai and Western military forces
during the nine-year war since the ousting of the Taliban in 2001.

General
David Petraeus, the U.S. general tapped by Washington to take over the
Afghan war after his predecessor criticized senior administration
officials, last week wrote to international troops to warn civilian
deaths must be kept at a minimum.

"We
must never forget that the decisive terrain in Afghanistan is the human
terrain," Petraeus, who masterminded the Iraq counter-insurgency, wrote
to 150,000 U.S. and NATO troops preparing an all-out offensive against
the Taliban in the south.

In
Kabul, The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said
five soldiers were killed by roadside bombs and insurgent gunfire in
separate incidents in the south and east.

A
joint Afghan and NATO investigation team found six civilians died
Thursday when artillery shells went astray in Paktia Province, the
alliance said in a statement.

"ISAF
officials offer sincere condolences to those affected and accept full
responsibility for the actions that led to this tragic incident," the
statement said.

Five Afghan
government soldiers were accidentally killed and two others wounded in
a pre-dawn NATO helicopter airstrike on Wednesday, prompting
condemnation from the government.

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Petraeus
is considering a sensitive change to rules of engagement drawn up his
predecessor to avoid civilian casualties, following complaints they tie
the hands of coalition troops combating insurgents.

The latest deaths will make any relaxation more difficult and may prompt more strains with the government.

Karzai
is already annoyed over plans outlined by Petraeus for Afghan villagers
to form militia-style defense groups to help fight the Taliban on their
own, The Washington Post newspaper said Saturday.

Casualties
among NATO forces fighting in Afghanistan hit a high in June and
commanders expect violence to rise in parallel with an anti-insurgent
offensive in coming months, raising questions about whether more can be
done to protect troops.

Bombers
including one suicide attacker hit two separate NATO convoys in eastern
Khost and northern Kunduz Saturday, injuring German soldiers and
showing the growing insurgency can strike well beyond the
Taliban-dominated south.

Two
coalition soldiers were killed Friday in separate bomb attacks, NATO
said, while a suicide car bomb hit an alliance convoy on a bridge
outside Jalalabad, killing one civilian.

(Additional reporting by Sayed Salahuddin; Editing by David Fox)

-
Hundreds of Afghans took to the streets of Mazar-i-Sharif Saturday to
protest against mounting civilian deaths, while five U.S. and NATO
troops died in separate insurgent attacks on a bloody day of fighting
across the country.

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