UNITED NATIONS â€” The UN Security Council voted unanimously Monday to extend the NATO-led force in Afghanistan but was critical of the growing number of civilian casualties, and urged its troops and U.S.-led forces to make major efforts to minimize civilian deaths.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has long complained that civilian deaths caused by U.S. or NATO military action undermine his government and the international mission.
The issue was propelled to the forefront of U.S.-Afghan relations when an Afghan commission found that an Aug. 22 U.S.-led operation in the western village of Azizabad killed 90 civilians, including 60 children. That finding was backed by a preliminary UN report, though the United States is still investigating the incident.
The resolution recognized the increased threats posed by Afghanistanâ€™s former Taliban rulers, al-Qaida and other extremist groups, and the challenges in dealing with them, but at the same time the council expressed â€œits serious concern with the high number of civilian casualties in this context.â€ It recognized the efforts made by the NATO-led forces and other international troops to minimize the risk of civilian casualties and called on them â€œto take additional robust efforts in this regard.â€
This should be done â€œby the continuous review of tactics and procedures and the conduct of after-action reviews and investigations in co-operation with the Afghan government in cases where civilian casualties have occurred and when the Afghan government finds these joint investigations appropriate,â€ the council said.
Taliban attacks have grown larger and more deadly, making 2008 the most violent year in Afghanistan since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that ousted the Talibanâ€™s hardline Islamist government. At least 120 U.S. soldiers and 104 troops from other NATO nations have died already in 2008, both record numbers. Overall, more than 4,500 people – mostly militants – have died in insurgency-related attacks this year.
The council condemned â€œin the strongest terms all attacks … and abductions targeting civilians and Afghan and international forces and their deleterious effect on the stabilization, reconstruction and development efforts in Afghanistan.â€
The resolution extended the mandate of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force until Oct. 13, 2009.
Council diplomats said Russia, which abstained on last yearâ€™s resolution extending the NATO-led force, insisted on language allocating blame for civilian casualties.
Russiaâ€™s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters after Mondayâ€™s vote that Moscow was â€œsatisfied it is a clear message for the need for more robust effortsâ€ by the NATO-led force and others to deal with â€œthe very disconcerting problem of civilian casualties.â€
â€œWe were very careful to make sure the position of the government of Afghanistan is reflected in the text … when referring to joint investigations with NATO, the Afghan government and the United Nations,â€ he said.
â€œRussia attaches great importance to the international effort to fight terrorism and to fight Taliban in Afghanistan,â€ Churkin said. â€œWe are satisfied that both the gravity of the situation is reflected in the resolution and also the need to be respectful of the position of the Afghan government in that regard.â€
Libyaâ€™s deputy UN ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi, the only envoy to speak in the council, said â€œfighting terrorism does not justify in any way the killing of civilians.â€
The NATO-led force should take â€œall necessary measures to protect Afghan civilians during ongoing operationsâ€ and ensure that their human rights are guaranteed, he said.