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U.N.'s Latest Report on Civilian Casualties

To his credit, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, former NATO commander who recently was fired after the controversial piece was published in Rolling Stone http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/17390/119236 by my former longtime Newsweek colleague Michael Hastings, introduced strict rules on air strikes and called on soldiers to assess the likelihood of civilian casualties before taking any action.

His successor, Gen. David Petraeus, has continued the policy. "Every Afghan death diminishes our cause," Petraeus said in a statement. He also noted that even the increase in insurgent-caused deaths can hurt NATO's effort. "We know the measure by which our mission will be judged is protecting the population from harm by either side. We will redouble our efforts to prevent insurgents from harming their neighbors," Petraeus said.

A new United Nations report suggests the number of civilians killed in the Afghan war jumped 25 percent in the first half of 2010 compared with the same period last year. Insurgents are largely responsible for the spike, the UN said in a report released this month.

According to the report, 1,271 Afghan innocents died and 1,997 were injured - mostly from bombings - in the first six months of the year. Comparatively, there were 1,013 civilian deaths in the first six months of 2009. The U.N. said insurgents were responsible for 72 percent of the deaths - up from 58 percent last year.

Perhaps the most disturbing stat from this report, for me at least, is the increasing number of children deaths. The report says 176 children were killed and 389 others were wounded - up 55 percent over the same six-month period last year. It didn't specify how they died or from whose bullets or bombs.

What we do know is that the insurgents use children in despicable ways. They fire on American troops with women and children intentionally placed in the middle. There is no other way to describe these tactics but what they are: pure evil. I know how important it is to Marines and soldiers to spare innocent lives. The insurgents' tactics put unthinkable pressure on our troops: To kill or be killed, with civilians in the crossfire.

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