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US Getting More Afghan Help to Reduce Civilian Casualties

A senior U.S. defense official says American forces in Afghanistan are working more closely with the Afghan military to try to reduce civilian casualties.

The Under Secretary for Policy, Michele Flournoy, told a gathering at the Center for Strategic and International Studies Tuesday the defense department is "deeply concerned" about civilian casualties from coalition attacks in Afghanistan. In recent months, there have been several attempts to improve targeting and communications, and to quickly investigate incidents and compensate the victims or their families.

Now, Flournoy says, a new element has been added.

"One of the things that's happened in recent weeks is a number of steps that we have worked out with the Afghan Ministry of Defense and the Afghan military to try to more fully integrate Afghans into every aspect of our operations, from intelligence to planning to actual execution, so that we have the benefit of Afghan expertise, knowledge, sensitivities, etc. in what we're doing, and that includes the most sensitive kinds of direct action that we are undertaking against extremist elements,"said Michele Flournoy.

Flournoy is one of the architects of President Barack Obama's new strategy for fighting violent extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

She said Tuesday the United States supports efforts by the Afghan government to reconcile with some of the militants, but she said that plan will likely not get very far until coalition forces make some gains against the Taliban and allied groups.

The additional 17,000 U.S. troops heading to Afghanistan during the next couple of months are to help do that. But Flournoy stressed that the additional troops will also be training Afghan forces to take over the job as soon as possible.

Speaking at Harvard University on Tuesday, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Iraq and the entire region, General David Petraeus, said the American people and the congress will want an assessment of how things are going with the new strategy by the end of this year.

"We literally are going to have to make that kind of assessment, probably the first one, by the end of this year," said General Petraeus. "We are going to put substantial additional resources in this year in terms of military, financial and civilians. We do believe that we can achieve progress, but it's going to get worse before it gets better, just as did Iraq."

Petraeus and Flournoy said it is important for the Afghan military, and also by the Afghan government as a whole, to demonstrate that they can serve their own people. Flournoy called that the most important indicator of whether the president's new strategy is working on that side of the border.

She said among the key tests on the Pakistani side will be whether the government and military are willing to accept U.S. aid and expertise to help fight the militant groups operating in the northwest, and whether the Pakistanis, with U.S. help, can deliver more services to the people and convince them not to support the militants.