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Taliban's code of conduct: Protect civilians, unless they side with the government, NATO

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Taliban have issued a new code of conduct ordering fighters to protect civilians — as long as they don't side with the Afghan government or NATO coalition. If they do, the punishment is death.

The 69-page directive, obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press in southern Afghanistan, follows an acceleration in Taliban attacks on Afghan officials — a campaign that threatens the NATO goal of bolstering local government to help turn back the insurgents.

"The Taliban must treat civilians according to Islamic norms and morality to win over the hearts and minds of the people," says the code, which the insurgents began distributing about a week ago.

On the other hand, the code makes clear that civilians who work with foreign troops or the Afghan government are fair game. "They are supporters of the infidels" and can be killed, the code says.

The code updates a similar directive released a year ago that limited the use of suicide bombers and mandated that prisoners cannot be harmed or ransomed without the approval of a Taliban regional commander. NATO and Afghan officials criticized last year's code as propaganda and insisted it does not reflect how the Taliban really fight.

Analysts familiar with the Taliban said last year's code was more of a political statement than a military textbook, meant to counter the international coalition's own attempts at winning hearts and minds. The U.N. has reported that about 70 percent of the civilian casualties are due to the Taliban, mostly people being killed or wounded in suicide attacks and roadside bombs.

The new code confirms what is becoming increasingly apparent: The ranks of Afghanistan's civil servants are under siege.

Roadside bombs are planted on their routes. Ominous letters threaten their families. Taliban on motorbikes shoot them in the streets.

An average of three government officials have been attacked or killed every month so far this year, according to a tally by The Associated Press based on police reports. Attacks have occurred in about a dozen of the 35 provinces. Many more incidents are believed to go unreported.

In one of the most dramatic attacks, gunmen assassinated the deputy mayor of Kandahar city in April as he knelt for evening prayers in a mosque in the south.

Local officials get regular reminders that their jobs might cost them their lives.

Mohammad Rahim Amin, a local government chief in Baraki Barak district of Logar province, said he received a telephone threat the other day.

"How are you, servant of infidels?" the caller asked him.

Amin, unruffled, turned the tables on the man on the other end of the line.

"I'm OK," he replied. "How are you, killer of the Afghan nation?"

Amin has survived two Taliban ambushes and a roadside bomb that coalition forces safely defused.

"My family is all the time worrying about me," Amin said. "Two months ago, we received a threat letter that said: 'Don't work with the government, otherwise your family will be destroyed.'"

These attacks undermine efforts by the government of President Hamid Karzai to earn the trust of the people. They also make it more difficult to recruit Afghans for the civil service and strengthen administration, especially at the provincial and district levels where the threat is greatest.

"When you have targeted killings, especially the tribal leaders, it creates an environment of fear," said Barna Karami, deputy of Afghanistan's Independent Directorate of Local Governance. "It's natural that when security deteriorates, targeted killings, kidnappings and assassinations make people fear to participate in government."

The Taliban are stepping up their attacks on local officials because Afghan and foreign troops are ramping up their pressure on the insurgents.

Over the past 30 days, coalition and Afghan troops have captured or killed 50 insurgent leadership figures and more than 425 suspected militants, NATO says.

With about 7,500 NATO reinforcements streaming into Afghanistan in the coming weeks and months — joining up with 110,000 already here — the Taliban's fear and intimidation campaign will likely become more aggressive.

"The means that they use to fight can only result in a great number of civilian casualties," said Lt. Col. John Dorrian, a NATO spokesman in Kabul. "They are ruthless and they are willing to take shortcuts like using improvised explosive devices and suicide attackers, which almost always result in innocents being killed as well."

Dorrian said targeted attacks on local officials present challenges for Gen. David Petraeus' counterinsurgency strategy, which aims to provide security and earn the trust of the Afghan people.

As Afghan security forces grow and more NATO troops arrive, the insurgents will have less freedom to move and fewer places to hide, he said.

For now, however, the lives of Afghan civil servants — governors, teachers, community leaders and police — are in danger across the country.

There were two attacks on Monday.

In Dand district to the west of Kandahar, a suicide car bomber blew himself up next to a vehicle taking district government chief Ahmadullah Nazak to work. Nazak was injured but six children were killed.

In Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan, Karzai adviser Wahidullah Sabaoun was wounded, but not seriously, when his convoy was hit by a remote-controlled bomb hidden in a rickshaw.

Kazim Allayar, deputy governor of Ghazni, said he's been targeted by the Taliban seven times. A remote-controlled mine in Ghazni city badly damaged his car, but he and his bodyguard escaped injury. Another time, a bomb, placed inside a cooking pot and strapped to a parked motorbike, exploded as he drove by.

Still he stays in his job.

"It is my duty," he said. "Afghanistan is my homeland. As a soldier of this nation, we are struggling and fighting. We are ready for sacrifice."

Mohammad Hussain Fahimi, a member of the provincial council in Wardak province, said he and his fellow council member "do not take one step outside the city."

If he needs to travel, he lies about where he's going because he worries that shopkeepers and taxi drivers, who spy for the Taliban, will alert insurgents of his whereabouts. Government representatives from Jalrez, Nirkh and Sayd Abad districts that are controlled by the Taliban have shifted their families to Kabul.

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Associated Press Writer Matiullah Achakzai contributed to this report from Spin Boldak, Afghanistan.