Wednesday, March 4, 2009

More must be done to protect Afghan civilians

KABUL, March 2 (Reuters) - All sides in the war in Afghanistan must do much more to protect civilians who will face the brunt of any increase in violence with the arrival of thousands of new troops, a top Red Cross official said on Monday.

Ordinary Afghans were now more at risk from the fighting than at any other time since the start of the war in 2001, said Pierre Kraehenbuehl, director of operations for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Kraehenbuehl told a news conference unless much more was done by the different parties to the conflict to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law "the ICRC seriously fears that the Afghan population will bear the brunt of the announced and potential escalation".

Violence in Afghanistan surged last year with some 5,000 people killed, including more than 2,100 civilians, a 40 percent increase on the previous year, the United Nations says.

President Barack Obama has ordered 17,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan to bolster some 70,000 foreign troops, including 38,000 U.S. soldiers already in the country fighting a resurgent Taliban.

Although more reluctant than the United States, NATO countries are also expected to send some more troops this year to help provide security for the presidential election.

But more troops will likely lead to more violent clashes between international and Afghan forces and the militants causing even more difficulties for civilians, Kraehenbuehl said.
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