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Civilians Killed During Offensive in Afghanistan: Human Shields or Unfortunate Targets?

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The narrative was set up from the beginning: the U.S.-NATO offensive in Marjah, Afghanistan would be one where not killing civilians would be at the forefront of conversation as major players in the conflict in Afghanistan, news organizations, and the people of Afghanistan and the world paid attention to the offensive. It was only a matter of time before military leaders and politicians began to trumpet a charge commonly heard from occupiers, that the enemy is using civilians as "human shields."

BBC News recently reported:

Gen Ghori, the senior commander for Afghan troops in the area, accused the Taliban of taking civilians hostage in Marjah and putting them in the line of fire.

"Especially in the south of Marjah, the enemy is fighting from compounds where soldiers can very clearly see women or children on the roof or in a second-floor or third-floor window," he is quoted by Associated Press as saying.

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"They are trying to get us to fire on them and kill the civilians."

As a result, his forces were having to make the choice either not to return fire, he said, or to advance much more slowly in order to distinguish militants from civilians.

Forces that were going in to attack Marjah to root out Taliban they believed to be in the region warned civilians ahead of the invasion. NATO told civilians to keep their heads down. Fleeing the area was encouraged so forces could go in and wage a campaign that produced very few civilian casualties. This was all part of plans to ease public outcries against an occupation that many believe has been perpetrating indiscriminate attacks on civilians.

Despite calls encouraging civilians to leave, the Christian Science Monitor reported that not too many took "the hint."

The US-led force said Tuesday that fewer than 200 families -- around 1,200 people -- had left the town of Marjah and the surrounding area, which have a population of about 80,000. By Wednesday, the Associated Press reported another 100 families had left.

"Commanders in the area are reporting no significant increase in persons moving out of Nad-e Ali district in the last month," the US-led International Security Assistance Force said in a statement.

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"Despite reports of large numbers of civilians fleeing the area, the facts on the ground do not support these assertions"...

..."The presence of a large number of civilians could make the operation much trickier and provide a test of the new coalition military doctrine of protecting the population. A large media contingent from around the world will accompany the troops, recording their progress.

An estimated 2,000 Taliban fighters are dug in and are believed to have planted roadside bombs and booby-trapped buildings. Residents said the insurgents had dug trenches in a traffic circle and mined the roads out of town. It may be too late for those who haven't escaped by now.

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Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure." He was an editor for

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