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UN Chief Voices Concern Over Afghan Civilian Deaths


U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says he is deeply concerned about civilian casualties in Afghanistan. Mr. Ban called for closer cooperation between civilian and military leaders.

During Ban Ki-moon's brief, unannounced visit to Kabul, he called 2009 an important year for addressing Afghanistan's security challenges and establishing full democracy.

The secretary-general said he plans to maintain a strong partnership with the Afghan government this year and hopes to better coordinate infrastructure and energy development with international donors.

Last year, Taliban fighters extended their reach from southern and eastern areas of the country to the outskirts of Kabul, killing record numbers of troops and further imperiling the already weak Afghan government.

Foreign troops have responded with airstrikes and raids in more remote areas, but the tactics have also led to hundreds of civilian deaths.

Mr. Ban called for closer coordination between civilian and military officials.

"I fully share the concerns and frustrations President Karzai has endured in the course of many tragic incidents where civilian people have been killed in the course of the military operations fighting terrorism," he said.

Afghan political leaders on all levels regularly complain that the civilian casualties by foreign troops are undermining public support for the Afghan government.

Should foreign military get permission before launching air strikes?

President Hamid Karzai has suggested requiring foreign militaries to first get permission from Afghan officials before carrying out air strikes and house raids. During Wednesday's news conference with the U.N. secretary-general, Mr. Karzai again called for an end to civilian casualties.

Mr. Karzai says the issue of civilian casualties has caused tensions between Afghanistan and the United States, but the overall relationship remains strong. He says military leaders should negotiate on his suggestions for new rules of engagement.

Ban Ki-moon also meets with Pakistani leaders in Islamabad, where he is expected to announce the creation of a formal U.N. investigation into the assassination of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

A Pakistani investigation last year concluded Taliban militants were most likely responsible for her death in December 2007. But Bhutto's political party, which now leads Pakistan's government, suggested that her political opponents may have played a role in the plot. Officials appealed for a formal U.N. inquiry last year.


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