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NATO Pledges More Troops, Promises to Avoid Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan

Defense ministers meeting in Brussels have pledged additional support for NATO forces in Afghanistan and agreed on measures to avoid civilian casualties.

NATO officials said Friday that several countries had pledged to provide more military trainers for the Afghan National Army. But the additional troops and trainers fell short of the top NATO commander in Afghanistan's stated requirements.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said several allies will remove restrictions on the use of their forces in Afghanistan. Gates also said the U.S. will extend the assignment of U.S. helicopters in Afghanistan for six months, after allies failed to come up with replacements.

Officials at the meeting in Brussels also promised the 40,000-strong International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) would do everything it could to avoid civilian casualties.

NATO officials say they would continue to review combat operations, but indicated that no major changes were planned and that new measures were proving effective.

A NATO spokesman, James Appathurai, blamed Taleban insurgents for most civilian deaths, and for deliberately using civilians as shields.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says civilians have been hit hard in the past year by a rise in violence between international forces and insurgents.

The organization blames the increase in civilian casualties on a rise in suicide attacks by insurgents, and military aerial bombings to support NATO troops.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.