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Top UN team assesses Afghanistan

Nato soldier in Afghanistan
Nato has been criticised over the high level of civilian casualties

A top-level delegation from the UN Security Council has arrived in the Afghan capital, Kabul, to assess the security situation in the country.

Its visit comes amid an increasingly violent campaign by Taleban fighters.

The team of ambassadors and officials from 15 countries will discuss how to implement about $20bn (13.2bn) pledged from a donors' conference this year.

US President-elect Barack Obama has told the Afghan leader that defeating the insurgency is a key objective.

The UN team will look at how best to implement the $20bn pledged for Afghanistan at a donors' conference in Paris.

A UN statement said the team would "underscore the importance of regional co-operation for governance, security, and development".

Among the delegation is Zalmay Khalilzad, the Afghan-born US ambassador to the UN, mentioned as a possible candidate for next year's Afghan presidential election.

'Promoting peace'

The BBC's Sanjoy Majumder in Kabul says that the team will review the security situation in the wake of increasing attacks by the Taleban.

Scene of a Kabul car bomb attack in October 2007
Violence in Afghanistan has got worse every year since 2001

The Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) operates under a Security Council mandate and it has been much criticised in recent months by the Afghan government for killing civilians during air strikes.

The UN said its team would "underline the role of the United Nations in promoting peace and stability".

Separately, Mr Obama telephoned Afghan President Hamid Karzai over the weekend in what correspondents say was the first contact between the two men since the US presidential election this month.

Mr Karzai's office said that the president-elect had pledged that fighting "terrorism" and the insurgency in Afghanistan was "a top priority".

Meanwhile the US has said that a brigade of between 3,500 to 4,000 extra US troops - due to arrive in Afghanistan in January - will be deployed in the east of the country.

It says they will be part of the continuing effort to stop the infiltration of militants from Pakistan.

The US military says the deployment is part of reinforcements in the fight against the Taleban that could amount to an extra 20,000 personnel.

"They are going to move into areas that are currently not covered," US military spokesman Col Greg Julian said.

The area includes about a dozen provinces that are on the border with Pakistan, where the military suspects that Taleban and al-Qaeda militants have safe havens.

"We recognise that there are certain lines or avenues that the insurgents come through (from Pakistan) and we are focusing our efforts on those," Col Julian said.

Officials say that Taleban-led violence has increased every year since they were removed from power in 2001.

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