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THE STANS
NATO says to boost Afghan mission to 16,000 troops
by Staff Writers
Brussels (AFP) Nov 7, 2017


US says 'no evidence' of civilian casualties in Afghan operation
Kunduz, Afghanistan (AFP) Nov 7, 2017 - US Forces said Tuesday they had found no evidence of civilian casualties caused by an airstrike in Afghanistan during a joint operation last week, contradicting claims by officials and residents.

Kunduz provincial governor Asadullah Omarkhail told AFP on Tuesday that one civilian had been killed and six wounded in an airstrike in the northeastern province, reaffirming his earlier toll.

But US Forces said an independent investigation into the incident had found "no evidence of civilian casualties".

"The USFOR-A investigation was conducted independently and concluded that there were no civilian casualties," it said in a statement.

"Specifically, no hospitals or clinics in the local area indicated treatment of people with wounds from armed conflict."

US Forces confirmed it had conducted operations in the area and that "numerous enemy combatants were killed".

That contrasts with various accounts in Kunduz that several civilians had been killed or wounded in the attack.

A villager in Char Dara district, which was targeted by the airstrike, put the civilian death toll at 11.

A hospital in the provincial capital of Kunduz said six wounded had been brought to the facility for treatment.

Provincial council member Khosh Mohammad told AFP 13 civilians had died.

Civilian casualties from airstrikes -- a politically sensitive issue in Afghanistan -- have surged this year as the United States intensifies aerial bombardments and Afghanistan's fledgling air force carries out its own bombings.

US aircraft dropped 751 bombs and missiles on Taliban and Islamic State militants in September, up 50 percent from August and the highest since October 2010, according to US Air Forces Central Command data.

A recent UN report showed 466 civilian deaths or injuries from airstrikes between January and September, up 52 percent from the same period last year, with women and children accounting for more than two thirds of the victims.

The US is the only foreign force in Afghanistan carrying out airstrikes.

NATO will boost its training mission in Afghanistan by around 3,000 troops, chief Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday as Kabul reeled from the latest deadly attack on civilians.

The overall size of NATO's training and support mission in the unrest-hit country will increase from roughly 13,000 to roughly 16,000, he said.

Speaking a day before NATO defence ministers meet in Brussels, Stoltenberg said the alliance would boost its presence "to help the Afghans break the stalemate, to send a clear message to Taliban to the insurgents that they will not win on the battleground".

"There will be more troops. Current level is around 13,000, the new level will be around 16,000," he added.

But Stoltenberg insisted there would be no return to combat operations.

"We are focusing on training the Afghan special operations forces, which have proven so key in the fight against the insurgents," he said.

A diplomatic source told AFP that the US would contribute 2,800 extra troops to the mission and other allies and partners around 700.

The Taliban, ousted from power in a US-led invasion in 2001, have been resurgent since NATO ended combat operations in 2014, and the Islamic State group are also stepping up attacks.

Gunmen disguised as policemen stormed Shamshad TV station in Kabul on Tuesday, killing one person and wounding two dozen others in an attack claimed by IS.

Stoltenberg said there will also be more help to develop the Afghan air force. Over 16 years of war in Afghanistan, air strikes have proved a potent weapon against the Taliban.

The decision to boost numbers will be formally approved by the NATO defence ministers meeting in Brussels on Wednesday and Thursday.

US ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison said last month that Washington would ask other alliance members to contribute around 1,000 more troops in Afghanistan.

This was to add to the roughly 3,000 US troops who are already dispatched to train and advise the country's security forces under President Donald Trump's new Afghan strategy.

Trump announced his new policy on Afghanistan in August, reversing his previous position advocating US withdrawal after military leaders convinced him that pulling out of America's longest war would be worse than remaining.

THE STANS
NATO probes claims of civilian casualties in Afghan airstrike
Kunduz, Afghanistan (AFP) Nov 6, 2017
NATO's mission in Afghanistan was investigating claims Monday that civilians were killed or injured during a joint operation with Afghan troops over the weekend. Scores of Taliban militants were killed in an airstrike that also left at least one civilian dead and six wounded in the northeastern province of Kunduz, provincial governor Asadullah Omarkhail told reporters. But a villager in ... read more

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