Page last updated at 05:56 GMT, Thursday, 6 August 2009 06:56 UK

Nato in pledge on Afghan deaths

Nato chief: "It is our clear intention to reduce the number of civilian casualties"

New Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said he is determined to reduce civilian casualties in Afghanistan to an absolute minimum.

On his first visit to Kabul in the job, Mr Rasmussen told Afghan President Hamid Karzai Nato's aim was to hand over security gradually to the Afghans.

The Nato chief is now in Kandahar, and has been briefed by senior commanders on fighting in Helmand province.

Mr Rasmussen said forthcoming elections must be as inclusive as possible.

A BBC correspondent says this has been the most violent year since the Taliban were overthrown in 2001.

The BBC's Adam Mynott, who is travelling with Mr Rasmussen, says casting a vote in the presidential election on 20 August will amount to defying the Taliban, who have called for a boycott.

Fury in Kandahar

Shortly after landing at Kabul airport amid very tight security, Mr Rasmussen - who replaced Jaap de Hoop Scheffer as Nato chief on 1 August - went to the presidential palace to meet Mr Karzai, and the pair spoke for an hour.

Afghan villagers look at the bodies of several people allegedly killed in an airstrike in Kandahar, on 5 August 2009
Three children and a man were killed in an air strike around Kandahar

Former Danish Prime Minister Mr Rasmussen said that although some civilian deaths caused by Nato action were inevitable and regrettable, he was determined to reduce such fatalities - a cause of bitter resentment in Afghanistan.

He told a news conference: "My criteria for success is that we can gradually hand over responsibility of security to the Afghans themselves."

But as he spoke, there was fury in southern Afghanistan in the Kandahar area, after three children and a man were killed in an air strike by international forces.

Angry villagers shouted "death to America, death to infidels", as they displayed the bodies in the back of a truck, reported the Associated Press news agency.

Mr Rasmussen said Nato had no interest in who won the forthcoming polls, but he added the process should be as inclusive as possible.

President Karzai - who is seeking re-election - said he had a message for the Taliban.

"Attacking election sites or intimidating people is not only not serving Afghanistan, it is actually working against Afghan people and their very immediate interests for a better life," he said.

Mr Karzai said recently he was prepared to talk to Taliban leaders. He said this was not a new position and he was prepared to enter talks with any group, provided they were not agents of al-Qaeda or terrorists.

Some 65,000 troops from 42 nations serve in a Nato-led force that correspondents say has been hamstrung by disputes over the need for more soldiers.

July was the bloodiest month for the US and Nato in the nearly eight-year war, and the UN says civilian deaths soared by almost a quarter in the first half of 2009.

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