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U.N. seeks review of special forces in Afghanistan

From Reuters

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KABUL (Reuters) – The United Nations has asked NATO defense ministers to review how special forces are deployed in Afghanistan in a bid to reduce civilian casualties that risk jeopardizing Western efforts to stabilize the country.

“I welcome additional troops coming in. But every effort must be made to avoid a situation where more troops and more fighting leads to more civilian casualties and behavior that offends the population,” U.N. Special Representative Kai Eide told NATO defense ministers in Brussels by video link from Kabul.

With violence at its worst level since the Taliban‘s ouster in 2001, Washington is pouring thousands of extra troops into Afghanistan this year.

The reinforcements will more than double troop levels from 32,000 at the end of 2008 to 68,000 by the end of this year. Other Western troops battling the Taliban-led insurgency number about 30,000.

Eide’s remarks, made late on Friday, were released by the U.N. mission in Afghanistan on Saturday.

“We cannot eliminate civilian casualties, but we cannot afford mistakes that lead to the loss of civilian lives, the alienation of the population and media headlines month after month that overshadow all the positive trends,” he said.

“The political costs are simply disproportionate to the military gains.”

Civilian casualties have long been a source of anger for Afghans, worsened last month by U.S. air strikes in western Afghanistan that the Afghan government says killed 140 villagers, including 93 children.

Washington has acknowledged that not all procedures were followed in that bombing. It says it believes 20-35 civilians were among 80-95 people killed, most of them Taliban fighters.

Those air strikes were called in by a unit of U.S. Marine special forces in support of Afghan and U.S. troops who had been ambushed.

U.S. special forces operate across Afghanistan outside of NATO’s command structure but report to the same U.S. general that commands NATO troops. The new U.S. and NATO commander, General Stanley McChrystal, is a veteran special forces leader.

“There is an urgent need to review the operations of special forces, including how such operations can be Afghanised,” Eide said. He did not elaborate on what he meant by “Afghanised.”

“That review should consider all options, and I repeat, all options, and their possible implications. Furthermore we must all make sure that the training of military personnel is such that they are fully aware of Afghan sensitivities.”

(Editing by Paul Tait)

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