Over 800 Afghan soldiers killed this year

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

KABUL - More than 800 Afghan soldiers have been killed in the country’s conflict with militants so far this year, more than any other since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, a defence ministry spokesman said Wednesday.

“A total of 806 Afghan National Army soldiers have been martyred in 2010,” Zahir Azimi told reporters. Of those, 43 died in November, and 63 have been killed so far this month.

The toll was up more than 25 percent from 632 fatalities for the whole of 2009, another ministry official said.

This year has also been the bloodiest for foreign troops and Afghan civilians since the start of the war nine years ago with more than 700 NATO-led foreign troops and at least 2,400 civilians killed.

Five more civilians were killed during a clash in southern Afghanistan between foreign troops and suspected Taliban militants, officials said Wednesday. NATO was investigating the deaths while an Afghan general urged the alliance to eliminate terrorist sanctuaries located outside Afghanistan.

The civilians — three women and two children — and seven militants were killed Tuesday in the Sangin district of Helmand province during the clash.

“We don’t know which side was responsible for the killing,” Daoud Ahmadi, spokesman for the provincial governor, said.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said that its forces fired on a compound in the district from which insurgents had attacked its forces.

Civilian casualties at the hands of international troops are a contentious issue in Afghanistan. They have been a source of tension between NATO and President Hamid Karzai, who said that such deaths sapped public support for the war.

Meanwhile, Azimi said Wednesday that security would not be achieved in Afghanistan unless NATO eliminates “terrorist sanctuaries” abroad.

“We believe that until the funding, training, equipping and staging centres for the terrorists are eliminated outside Afghanistan, security will not be established in Afghanistan or in the region,” he said.

Azimi’s comment came after The New York Times reported Tuesday that US military commanders were pushing for ground raids across the border into Pakistan’s tribal areas, where some of the Taliban fighters active in Afghanistan are thought to be based.

Asked whether the Afghan government supported such raids, Azimi said, “The stance of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is that we support the elimination of terrorist sanctuaries.”

The ISAF said in a statement Tuesday that it was not contemplating such action in Pakistan and had “developed a strong working relationship with the Pakistani military to address shared security issues”.

Islamabad has so far steadfastly resisted pressure to allow US special forces to conduct anti-terrorist operations in border areas. Pakistani military officials have warned against any military intrusion into their country.

In his Afghan war review last week, US President Barack Obama said his country “will continue to insist to Pakistani leaders that terrorist safe havens within their borders must be dealt with”.

Attacks by US drones on suspected insurgents in Pakistan have substantially increased this year. The attacks have outraged the Pakistani public because of alleged civilian casualties.

In Aghanistan, NATO has decided to start transferring overall security responsibility to local security forces in July and plans to have the handover complete by the end of 2014.

Afghanistan currently has about 150,000 soldiers and more than 120,000 police officers trained by US and other NATO troops since 2002.

The alliance plans to increase that number to 300,000 by next summer.

Afghan military officials said Afghanistan needs at least 400,000 to stand against the Taliban and interference by neighbouring countries.

Filed under: Terrorism

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