Controversy surrounds military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan following civilian casualties

US air strike in Afghanistan leaves 7 boys dead and Afghans angry, while continued violence in Iraq takes a toll on the civilian population.

Civilian casualities in Afghanistan and Iraq have many accusing US and coalition forces of causing unnecessary deaths.

A US airstrike on an alleged Taliban position that killed seven Afghan boys on Sunday is the latest source of controversy over who is to blame, according to several media sources.

Agence France-Presse reports that the White House says that the boys were being used as "human shields" by Taliban forces, which bear the responsibility for their deaths.

"Certainly we grieve for those who are lost," said White House spokesman Tony Snow. "We also understand that as a matter of tactics, the Taliban and other terrorists sometimes also try to transform innocents into human shields."

US forces called in the airstrike on the religious school in eastern Afghanistan because they believed it was being used as an Al Qaeda and Taliban staging ground. The New York Times quoted a US military spokesman as saying they didn't know there were any children inside, but it noted that Afghan anger at civilian casualties is rising.

The death of the children on Sunday may well add to the crescendoing anger many Afghans feel about civilian casualties from American and NATO military operations. More than 130 civilians have been killed
in airstrikes and shootings in the past six months, according to Afghan authorities.

The deaths of the children are not an isolated incident, The Washington Post reports. The paper quotes the head of the provincial council of Uruzgan, Mulvi Hamdullah, as saying that 50 civilians had died during intensified NATO operations in the area. A US military spokesman said the operations had claimed an equal number of insurgent lives.

There has been rising anger in Afghanistan toward international forces for not doing more to protect noncombatants.

Opinion writer Mathew Yglesias in an article for The Guardian of England, says the US may well eventually lose in Afghanistan if more care isn't taken to avoid civilian casualties.

A headline like seven Afghan children killed in airstrike, which I read in Monday's New York Times, can't help but make you angry. Angry about the dead children, of course, but also angry about the knowledge that there are bound to be others out there angrier over their deaths than I am. They'll have brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors, uncles and fathers, mothers, and cousins. Many of them, naturally enough, will become America's enemies. And with enough such enemies, we'll lose in Afghanistan.

The Los Angeles Times reports that anger is also being directed at Afghanistan's US-backed President Hamid Kharzai (free registration required).

Accidental civilian deaths at the hands of coalition troops have become a highly emotional issue in Afghanistan. The country's pro-Western president, Hamid Karzai, has appealed repeatedly for greater caution in military operations in civilian areas, but public anger at his government is growing as well.

Civilian casualties are also on the rise once more in Iraq, though media reports indicate that is mostly because of local death squads and insurgent bombings. On Tuesday, 75 Iraqis were killed by a truck bomb at a Shiite mosque in Baghdad, the Associated Press reported.

On Monday, fierce fighting in Maysan Province, south of Baghdad, left at least 30 people dead, most of them alleged Shiite militants, The Independent reported.

But the paper also quoted a local official as saying many of the dead were civilians.

Maysan provincial council member Latif al-Timimi said 16 "residents" were killed and a woman and child were among another 14 wounded.
"Most of the dead were killed in bombings as they were sleeping on the roofs of their homes. Those killed were residents and not linked to any political party," he said.
Timimi said the council decided at an emergency meeting to demand an apology from British and Iraqi forces, and to suspend work for three days.

McClatchy reports that the US military denied there were civilian casualties in the Maysan operation. But it also quotes a member of Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army as saying the US military's stated purpose – to stop members of the Mahdi Army involved in smuggling weapons from Iran – was based on false pretenses, and that at least half of the casualties were civilians.

Ahmed Shaybani, a Sadr official who was released from U.S. detention in March in hopes that he would be a moderate voice in the movement, condemned the raids. He denied that anyone was involved in smuggling Iranian weapons and said local men had fought off invading "Iraqi forces and occupation troops." They were celebrating their victory in the streets when U.S. aircraft hit the crowd, he said. Shaybani put the death toll at 34. He said only 16 were Mahdi Army militiamen.
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