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US withdraws from valley of death, civilian injuries rise
The Taliban have claimed victory over the US as American troops withdrew from Korengal, which has become known as the Valley of Death. Meanwhile the International Red Cross has said civilian injuries have increased by 40 per cent in January and February from the same period a year ago.
NATO’s International Security Assistance Force said the withdrawal was part of a new repositioning strategy.
“The move does not necessarily prevent forces from rapidly responding to crises in Korengal,” said ISAF commander General David Rodriguez.
US led forces plan to focus on Kandahar in the south as part of the US administration’s surge policy. It is increasing the number of troops from 126,000 to 150,000.
“The withdrawal is a great victory for us,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed told French press agency, AFP. “The area is very, very important for us. Its mountains provide a good hideout, it can be used as a training ground and lead our operations from the regions there. US troops fled after constant attacks.”
Four German soldiers were killed and several wounded in northern Afghanistan Thursday when their patrol was attacked, German military sources said.
Meanwhile, the International Red Cross says a hospital it supports in Kandahar treated 51 people injured in improvised explosive devices in March and 63 in February. So far this year, 157 foreign soldiers have died in Afghanistan, most of them in IEDs, compared with a total of 520 last year. Civilian deaths in 2009 came to 2,412.
Civilian deaths are often blamed directly and indirectly on foreign troops. In Helmand the statistics are unavaible, but the number increased after a US led assault on the district of Marjah, as Taliban fighters retreated, leaving a trail of IEDs in their wake.
Earlier this week, the US military fired on a bus and killed four Afghan civilians, and this year U.S. military admitted that Special Forces troops killed two pregnant Afghan women and a girl in a raid in February.
Afghan investigators found that American forces had dug bullets out of the women's bodies to cover up the crime.
General Stanley McChrystal, the US commander in Afghanistan, says he is taking over direct charge of Special Forces operations because of concern that they were not following his orders to make limiting civilian casualties a paramount objective.