Page last updated at 06:29 GMT, Friday, 3 April 2009 07:29 UK

Aid agencies issue Afghan warning

French soldiers in Wardak province
Nato has changed the way it conducts operations

A number of leading charities have warned that an increase in military deployments in Afghanistan could lead to a rise in civilian casualties.

They called on Nato leaders gathering in Strasbourg to do more to protect the population. Last year more than 2,000 civilians were killed in Afghanistan.

US President Barack Obama is to present his new Afghan strategy to Nato allies later on Friday.

The US has promised 17,000 extra troops and has called on Nato to add more.

'Eroding support'

While most civilian deaths in Afghanistan were caused by insurgents, a significant minority were caused by coalition forces.

The BBC's Ian Pannell in Kabul says civilian deaths have become a burning issue, with fears that in some cases military tactics generate public hostility which in turn feeds the insurgency.

In a report titled Caught in the Conflict, 11 aid groups including Oxfam, ActionAid and Care called on Nato to change the way it operates.

"The troop surge will fail to achieve greater overall security and stability unless the military prioritise the protection of Afghan civilians," Matt Waldman, head of policy for Oxfam International on Afghanistan, said.

A distraught Afghan woman holds images of her family members killed in August 2008 during a US led raid
Civilian deaths have caused resentment in Afghanistan

"Despite taking steps to reduce civilian casualties, and repeated calls for restraint, too many military operations by foreign troops involve excessive force, loss of life and damage to property.

"This is causing anger, fear and resentment among Afghans, and is steadily eroding popular support for the international presence."

Nato has changed the way it conducts operations to try to minimise casualties.

But the Taleban often launch attacks from populated areas making that hard to achieve, our correspondent says.

There is a general expectation that there will be a significant increase in violence this summer as more troops are met by stiffer resistance from the Taleban. If that occurs then more civilian deaths seem inevitable, he says.

President Obama will present his new Afghan strategy to Nato at Strasbourg, where its annual summit coincides with its 60th anniversary.

Although European governments have been reluctant to deploy any new ground forces, they have been more willing to offer humanitarian and development assistance to Kabul.

US officials say President Obama is unlikely to press for any concrete commitments at the Nato meeting.

He is more likely to use the summit to build ties with leaders whom he is meeting for the first time, they say.

Writing in the New York Times ahead of the summit, Nato Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said he hoped it could "find agreement on a common way forward, taking into account the new US effort including more support for Pakistan, a greater effort to strengthen the [Afghan] police, more coordinated aid and visible steps by Kabul to fight corruption".

Nato is also expected to approve moves to normalise ties with Russia. Moscow has agreed to allow Nato to send supplies to Afghanistan via its territory.

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