Mandate extended in Afghanistan

The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Monday to extend the NATO-led force in Afghanistan and urged its troops and U.S.-led forces to make additional “robust efforts” to minimize civilian casualties.

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 rose to the forefront of U.S.-Afghan relations when an Afghan commission found 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 U.N. report, though the U.S. is still investigating the incident.

The resolution recognized the increased threats posed by Afghanistan's former Taliban rulers, al-Qaida and other extremist groups – but at the same time the council expressed “its serious concern with the high number of civilian casualties in this context.”

It recognized efforts by the NATO-led forces and other international troops to minimize the risk of civilian casualties and called on them “to take additional robust efforts in this regard.”

This should be done “by the continuous review of tactics and procedures and the conduct of after-action reviews and investigations in cooperation with the Afghan government in cases where civilian casualties have occurred and when the Afghan government finds these joint investigations appropriate,” 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 Taliban's hard-line Islamist government. At least 120 U.S. soldiers and 104 troops from other NATO nations have died in 2008, both record numbers. Overall, more than 4,500 – mostly militants – have died in insurgency-related attacks this year.

The resolution extended the mandate of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force until Oct. 13, 2009.

Council diplomats said Russia insisted on language allocating blame for civilian casualties.