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Middle east

Petraeus vows to protect civilians and lower troop casualties

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-07-01

General David Petraeus, the new US and NATO commander in Afghanistan, said Thursday in talks with NATO allies in Brussels that he would look for ways to reduce the alliance's rising casualty rate, but without endangering Afghan civilians.

REUTERS - The new U.S. and NATO commander for Afghanistan said on Thursday he may end some of the restrictions on air power that have been blamed for alliance casualties, but not if it risks killing more Afghan civilians.

More than 320 foreign troops have died in Afghanistan so far this year, including more than 100 in June, the bloodiest month for foreign forces since a U.S.-led alliance overthrew the Taliban after al Qaeda's attacks on the United States in 2001.

Following talks with NATO allies in Brussels a day after he was confirmed to replace General Stanley McChrystal as commander of the Afghan war, General David Petraeus told reporters tactical directives needed to be implemented more evenly.

While those covering close air support and other secondary firepower were sound, "there are concerns among the ranks of some of our troopers on the ground that some of the processes are becoming a bit too bureaucractic", he said.

France 24's Jerome Starky reports on new Afghan commander General Patraeus

"I have a moral imperative as a commander ... to bring all force that is available when our troopers -- and, by the way, our Afghan partners -- are in a tough position."

At the same time, Petraeus said he had reaffirmed to Afghan, U.S. and NATO leaders that a commitment advocated by McChrystal to reduce civilian deaths to a minimum would be upheld.

"That is a counter-insurgency imperative," he said. "You must do everything humanly possible to protect the population."

Petraeus told his confirmation hearing in Washington that rules of engagement that critics say are restrictive and have put U.S. lives at risk to protect civilians would be reassessed.

"Uneven implementation"

In Brussels, Petraeus said the intention was not to change those rules but to "look very hard at how the rules and the tactical directives are implemented and to ensure that there is even implementation across all units".

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said NATO's "population-centric approach", focused on curtailing Afghan civilian deaths as much as possible, would be maintained.

"We will do our utmost to minimise civilian casualties ... of course this has to be implemented in such a way that we provide our soldiers with the best possible security," he said.

Obama replaced McChrystal last week after he disparaged U.S. leaders in a magazine article. The piece in Rolling Stone magazine highlighted complaints by U.S. troops that restrictions on the use of military power were putting lives at risk.

Rasmussen said Petraeus had the "full support" of the 28 NATO nations and the others in the 46-state allied operation in Afghanistan and that the aims of the mission had not changed.

While allies have expressed backing for Petraeus, who as McChrystal's superior was a prime architect of his counter-insurgency strategy, European diplomats say some were irritated Obama did not consult them before sacking McChrystal.

NATO says that as the commander's post is the preserve of an American, the decision was for Obama to take, although Rasmussen had expressed his full confidence in McChrystal only a day before his dismissal.

Date created : 2010-07-01

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