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Afghan Official Calls for Investigation of Civilian Casualties

Afghanistan's foreign minister says incidents of civilian casualties from U.S. bombs should be investigated and corrective measures taken.

In a brief interview in Washington Thursday, Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah said support for the U.S.-led anti-terrorism effort remains solid, but the issue of civilian casualties is causing concern.

Mr. Abdullah said some civilian casualties are inevitable in a war. Nevertheless, he said, the United States should move to address the issue and reassure the Afghan people.

"But what is important is that once it happens, we should investigate it and lessons have to be drawn," he said. "And based on those lessons, measures have to be taken in order to prevent it from happening. That, by any chance, does not mean erosion of support. But the concern is understandable."

Published reports suggest that as many as 400 civilians may have been killed by errant U.S. bombs.

Mr. Abdullah spoke on the fringes of the Afghan-American summit, a two-day meeting of political and business leaders from Afghanistan and the United States. The summit was focussed on the daunting task of Afghanistan's recovery and reconstruction after 23 years of war and civil strife.

All the speakers agreed on the link between security and assistance. Although there is a central government in place under Interim President Hamid Karzai, it has little power in the countryside. Outside Kabul, the rule of bandits and warlords continues to prevail.

Zalmay Khalilzad, President Bush's special envoy to Afghanistan, urged accelerated efforts to build a new, multi-ethnic national army as the best way to ensure peace and stability.

"Our existing efforts are not producing sufficient or timely results and must be expanded," he said. "To achieve this goal, the international community must work faster. We must develop a plan to train and equip security sector officials, from army soldiers to police officers, more rapidly."

The soldiers and police are being trained by international forces, but recruitment is in the hands of the Karzai government. Recruitment and training have been criticized as being too slow to address Afghanistan's urgent security needs.

Mr. Khalilzad said the Afghan government must expand its recruitment centers across the country so that recruits from across Afghanistan's ethnic spectrum enlist.

But Mr. Abdullah again urged that in the interim, peacekeepers of the International Security Assistance Force, ISAF, expand their operational area outside of Kabul.

"We have in the past, and we still do, believe that expanding the mandate and the geographical reach of ISAF to a few other regions would be a solid sign of commitment and reassurance for the Afghan people," he said. "The debate on this issue needs to go on."

A senior U.S. official, who asked not to be named, said later that the issue of expanding ISAF has not been ruled out. However, he added, the United States would not shoulder that burden alone. He said such a move would need solid commitment from other nations participating in the peacekeeping effort.