Page last updated at 11:09 GMT, Wednesday, 17 September 2008 12:09 UK

US 'must cut' Afghan casualties

Mr Gates (left) with President Karzai
Mr Gates said more must be done to protect civilians

The US must do more to limit civilian casualties in Afghanistan, the Defence Secretary Robert Gates has said after meeting President Hamid Karzai.

Mr Gates said he regretted the loss of innocent lives and would be discussing the subject with the US military.

The issue of civilian casualties has caused increasing anger in Afghanistan.

Earlier this month US forces were embarrassed by the emergence of video evidence indicating scores of civilian deaths in the province of Herat.

They said they would review an inquiry into the air raid last month which has been blamed for the deaths.

Afghan doctors treat a civilian casualty

The US initially said that no more than seven civilians died in the attack, but the Afghan government and the UN said up to 90 people were killed, including many women and children.

"You have my word we will do everything in our power to target our common enemy while protecting the good people of Afghanistan," Mr Gates said after his meeting with President Karzai.

"I extend my sincere condolences and personal regret over the recent loss of innocent lives as a result of coalition air strikes."

Meanwhile, in the latest violence, the US-led coalition says a bomb attack killed four of its soldiers and an Afghan national in the east of the country.

'Particularly bad'

About 200 international soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan so far this year, about the same number as died during the whole of last year.

Figures released by the UN on Tuesday showed that there had been a sharp increase in the number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan this year.

Afghans grieve over family members allegedly killed in a US air strike
Both sides have been blamed over civilian casualties

They showed that August had the highest number of deaths since the overthrow of the Taleban almost seven years ago.

The UN said that from January to August 1,445 civilians were killed - a rise of 39% on the same period last year.

The figures were collected by the human rights team of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.

UN spokesman Rupert Colville said it was especially worrying that every month things seemed to get worse.

"August was a particularly bad month - 330 civilians killed," he said.

"That's the highest number of civilian deaths to occur in a single month since the end of major hostilities and the ousting of the Taleban regime at the end of 2001."

The UN says that 55% of civilian deaths so far in 2008 can be attributed to the Taleban.

That is double the number for which they were held responsible last year.

Meanwhile, civilian casualties caused by pro-government forces are rising too - 577 so far this year, compared with 477 over the same period last year.

Over two-thirds were caused by air strikes and the UN is calling for an independent assessment of damage so that survivors and relatives can be compensated.

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Daily Gleaner U.S. apologizes for air strikes that killed Afghan civilians - 35 mins ago
The State Gates expresses regret for Afghan civilian deaths - 48 mins ago
Boston GlobeGates apologizes for deaths of civilians in Afghanistan - 1 hr ago Gates apologises for civilian deaths - 1 hr ago
Washington PostGates: US should apologize more quickly for deaths - 2 hrs ago
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