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Afghan President calls on NATO general to explain civilian deaths

For the second time in three days, Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai has called on the country's top NATO general to explain civilian casualties caused by international forces.

victims of a suicide bo,bing lying ondstretchers covered in cloth. People standing around.

Some 8,000 people were estimated to have died in Afghanistan in 2008

Civilian deaths caused by foreign troops in Afghanistan in their fight to defeat the Taliban have become a major cause of friction between the Afghan government and its Western backers, and have cost NATO the vital support of ordinary Afghans.

Last year, Gen. David McKiernan, who is in charge of the 70,000 NATO troops based in Afghanistan, implemented new rules of engagement intended to cut down on the deaths of innocent Afghans, but they still occur, especially in night-time raids.

Close of US General David McKiernan, commander of the NATO's International Security Assistance Force

McKiernan is trying to improve the negative image of foreign troops in Afghanistan

International forces have gone some way to try and blunt some of the damage by responding more quickly, coordinating their investigations with Afghan authorities, apologizing publicly and offering compensation.

"We have worked very hard at this to ensure that we can get to get to the truth of what has taken place as quickly as possible and maintain the support of the population," McKiernan's spokesman told Reuters news agency this week.

But skepticism among Afghans is still strong, and Karzai, who faces presidential elections in August, continues to warn foreign forces that they are in danger of losing any public acceptance they may still enjoy. The latest meeting between Karzai and McKiernan relates to the reported deaths of six civilians in two incidents.

In the past week, international forces have already been forced to apologize for the killings of Afghans in the Khost and Kunar provinces. In both cases, the military initially said they had been targeting militants. Within days, they had confessed to killing civilians and issued public apologies.

"Clearly there has been a shift recently and we're hopeful that it's going to continue," Marc Garlasco, senior analyst at New York-based Human Rights Watch, which has repeatedly criticized the military over the issue, told Reuters.

Denmark's Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen speaks at NATO press conference in Strasbourg.

Rasmussen is set to take over as NATO chief in August

NATO's reputation in Afghanistan suffered a further blow after the Taliban called the incoming NATO chief a "major enemy" of Muslims for defending the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad when prime minister of Denmark.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Danish premier until earlier this month, is due in August to become secretary general of NATO.

The publication of the cartoons in a Danish newspaper in 2006 led to riots across the Muslim world, including bloody protests in Afghanistan in which several people were killed. Rasmussen had defended the publication of the cartoons on the grounds of free speech and refused to apologize to Muslim countries.

US and NATO commanders say insurgents are still responsible for the majority of civilian deaths, blaming a surge in violence on Taliban fighting tactics.

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