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Originally published January 7, 2010 at 7:08 PM | Page modified January 7, 2010 at 9:51 PM

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Civilian deaths unleash more anger in Afghanistan

Thousands of Afghans shouting "Death to America!" protested the deaths of children Thursday, the latest in a string of cases in which international forces have been blamed for civilian deaths.

The Associated Press

Related developments

Afghan election: Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission on Thursday reaffirmed plans to hold parliamentary elections May 22 but pleaded for financial support from the international community. However, after August's fraud-tainted presidential election, which the international community largely underwrote, the principal funders have indicated they will not bankroll another Afghan election without extensive changes in the election commission that probably would push the vote into the summer. Dawood Ali Najafi, of the Independent Election Commission, said the elections would cost $120 million, of which $70 million could be paid out of funds left over from the presidential election. He appealed for $50 million more.

Afghan bombings: A suicide bomber killed seven people at a bazaar in Gardez, the capital of Paktia province, in eastern Afghanistan on Thursday, and a bomb hidden in a garbage container outside a provincial governor's compound in Khost City in Khost province slightly wounded the official.

Seattle Times news services

KABUL — Thousands of Afghans shouting "Death to America!" protested the deaths of children Thursday, the latest in a string of cases in which international forces have been blamed for civilian deaths.

U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal has ordered troops to use airstrikes judiciously and fire cautiously to reduce civilian casualties. Still, each new report of civilians killed causes anger that highlights a growing impatience with coalition forces' inability to secure the nation.

There are fears the problem could get worse with 37,000 U.S. and NATO reinforcements starting to stream into the country as part of a military buildup.

More civilians die at the hands of insurgents, yet any time innocent victims are killed, the Taliban waste no time in blaming foreigners.

"Every time the Taliban kills civilians, nothing happens. There is no protest. There is nothing," said Hroon Mir, an independent political analyst in Kabul. "But whenever there are civilian casualties from NATO or Afghan forces, then there is a reaction."

President Hamid Karzai has not been shy about denouncing the deaths, sometimes before investigations can conclude whether civilians or extremists were killed.

Karzai said he would speak out on the issue at a conference about Afghanistan on Jan. 28 in London.

The United Nations reports that 2,021 civilians were killed in the first 10 months of last year, the latest figures available. Of the total, nearly 1,400 were blamed on insurgents and 465 on U.S. and other pro-government forces, the U.N. said.

NATO, which also tracks civilian deaths, said international forces caused 190 civilian deaths last year and wounded 344 noncombatants. NATO reported that insurgents were responsible for 1,011 civilian deaths and the wounding of 2,407 civilians.

The precise death toll often matters less than the Afghan public's perception.

On Wednesday, an explosion tore through a group of children gathered around foreign soldiers visiting a U.S.-funded road project in Nangarhar province, east of Kabul. Afghan officials said four children were killed. NATO said two died.

Minutes after the blast, local residents were accusing U.S. forces of throwing a grenade into the crowd, even though several international troops were among the wounded. The Afghan Interior Ministry later released a statement saying the explosion occurred when a passing police vehicle hit a mine.

Still, an estimated 5,000 protesters demonstrated against the deaths Thursday on a road between Kabul and Jalalabad in Nangarhar. They waved a banner condemning the attack, set fire to an effigy of President Obama and chanted "Long live Islam!" and "Death to Obama!"

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