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US Official: Taliban Tactics Deliberately Endanger Afghan Civilians

A top U.S. diplomat says Taliban militants in Afghanistan are deliberately putting civilians in harms way when engaging coalition forces. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher on a visit to Kabul Saturday said Taliban fighters also are adopting more terrorist-like tactics to undermine trust in the government. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Kabul.

With international confidence in Afghanistan's government faltering and violence on the rise, Afghan officials recently have voiced as much concern over civilian deaths from coalition forces as the rising power of the Taliban.

This week President Karzai called on U.S. President elect Barack Obama to make ending the civilian deaths a top priority when he takes office. He cited an airstrike on Monday that Afghan officials says killed 37 civilians and 26 militants in Kandahar. Many of the civilians were believed to be part of a wedding party.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher says Taliban fighters appear to be choosing to attack coalition forces from civilian areas.

"We are dealing with an enemy that often deliberately inserts itself in villages or compounds - the other day they were fighting from within a wedding party and put them in harm's way. So it's very difficult to avoid these incidents," he said.

Boucher says U.S. officials are acutely aware of the need to reduce civilian casualties and are examining ways to use air power more responsibly. He says conducting more joint patrols with Afghan forces has helped.

"We do a lot more now with Afghan troops," he said. "I think over half the operations actually now have Afghan forces in the lead now - they tend to operate with a little more cultural sensitivity that tends to reduce civilian casualties."

U.S. officials are considering a wide array of options to counter the Taliban insurgency, including recruiting Afghan tribes to turn against militants. Boucher said a key factor will be the government's ability to conduct community outreach in Afghanistan's vast rural areas, to try to undermine the local support base for the Taliban.