Karzai addresses Afghan Parliament at opening session

Nov 30, -0001
KABUL: Afghan President Hamid Karzai opened parliament for 2010 on Saturday by saying that NATO's efforts to prevent civilian deaths during its operations were not enough because innocent people were still dying.

Karzai made the comments as the NATO Afghan military alliance entered its 8th day offensive against the Taliban in the Helmand province.

Afghan civilians should not become the target and there should not be civilian casualties in the fight against terrorism," Karzai said in a speech at the opening session of the Afghan parliament.

Karzai also repeated his call to Taliban fighters to renounce al-Qaida and join with the government - an appeal that may have more resonance after recent arrests of Taliban leaders in Pakistan.

"I call on the Taliban and other opposition groups who are fighting against their own country, that the outcome of the fight can only mean problems and difficulties for this country," the Afghan leader told the 200 lawmakers after a month's recess.

Karzai said that NATO has made progress in reducing civilian casualties and air bombardments which have been responsible for some of the largest incidents of civilian deaths.

He also thanked NATO commander General Stanley McChrystal, who attended the speech.

However, Karzai stressed that the effort is not sufficient.

"We need to reach the point where there are no civilian casualties," Karzai said. "Our effort and our criticism will continue until we reach that goal."

The week-old operation in Marjah is a major test of a new NATO strategy that stresses protecting civilians over routing insurgents as quickly as possible.

But the strategy has proved difficult.

At least 15 civilians have died despite the care taken.

Meanwhile, the painstaking process of separating out innocent people from militants has slowed troops' progress in gaining control of the Taliban stronghold.

In Marjah on Saturday, small arms fire and single sniper rounds intensified in a pocket near the centre of town as insurgent gun squads tried to close in on Marines, who fought back with their own sniper fire and grenade launchers.

"Fighting remains difficult in the northeast and west of Marjah, but insurgent activity is not limited to those areas," NATO said in a statement, a reminder that they continue to face stubborn resistance in the town of 80-thousand.

The operation in Marjah, a major southern Taliban stronghold and drug hub, is the biggest since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan.

Twelve NATO troops have died so far in the offensive, and senior Marine officers say intelligence reports suggest more than 120 insurgents have died.

The plan is to secure the area and then rush in a civilian Afghan administration, restore public services and pour in aid to try to win the loyalty of the population in preventing the Taliban from returning. AGENCIES.

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