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KABUL — A new Taliban code of military conduct that tells fighters to limit suicide attacks and avoid killing civilians is a sham that doesn't reflect the true nature of the insurgents, NATO and Afghan officials said Wednesday.
The code, entitled "Taliban 2009 Rules and Regulations Booklet," is believed to have been published in May and distributed to fighters. Copies have been seized in operations throughout the country, NATO spokesman Brig. Gen. Eric Tremblay said.
It appeared the code was designed to affirm the authority of Taliban leader Mullah Omar and to present the movement as a credible military force based on ideals and not as a loose collection of criminal bands as portrayed by the government.
"It seems to be a form of propaganda to try to show there is a central control over the insurrection," Tremblay said.
The requirement for Taliban fighters to respect the rules of war contradicts the reality on the ground, Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammad Zahir Azimi said, noting that Taliban fighters captured and beheaded an Afghan soldier this week in the eastern Paktika region.
Tremblay said insurgents have conducted at least 90 suicide bombings this year, and at least 40 percent of the victims were civilians. He also said that insurgents traffic children to use them as unknowing suicide bombers, and have destroyed at least 40 schools this year.
Taliban spokesmen were not immediately available for comment Wednesday.
An Associated Press count of civilian deaths based on reports from Afghan and international officials shows that 453 civilians have been killed in insurgent attacks this year. The count also shows that 199 civilians have died from attacks by Afghan or international forces. An Afghan human rights group says an additional 69 civilians died during a U.S. attack in Farah province in May, but the U.S. disputes those deaths.
According to Al-Jazeera television, which first reported on the code, the document states that "the utmost effort should be made to avoid civilian casualties."
The code requires that "any official, soldier, contractor or worker of the slave government" who is captured "cannot be attacked or harmed," according to Al-Jazeera. "The decision on whether to seek a prisoner exchange or to release the prisoner with strong guarantees will be made by the provincial (Taliban) leader."
Releasing prisoners in exchange for ransom is forbidden, Al-Jazeera said. And any decision to kill, release or exchange a "military infidel" — meaning a U.S. or NATO soldier — must be made by Mullah Omar or his deputy, it said.
Last month, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, issued new rules directing international troops to avoid the use of airstrikes if civilians are at risk and to consider protecting the Afghan people more important than killing Taliban. The purpose is to combat the backlash among the Afghan public against the international military mission.
Meanwhile, a U.S. military service member died from a noncombat-related injury late Tuesday in western Afghanistan, the U.S. military said. It said the incident was under investigation and released no other information.
The death brings to 40 the number of U.S. troops who have died in the Afghan conflict this month. July has been the deadliest month for U.S. and NATO troops since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion to oust the Taliban regime.
Associated Press writer Rahim Faiez contributed to this report.