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The Afghan Defense Minister and Gen. David McKiernan, commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan, have agreed to several measures meant to reduce the number of civilian casualties caused by coalition military operations.

Among the measures, announced Friday, are increased Afghan oversight in planning of missions — particularly night operations and those that take place in populated areas.

"There will be better coordination to minimize risk of civilian casualties and ensure Afghans search Afghan homes and conduct arrest operations," a U.S. Forces Afghanistan statement read. "Maintaining the support of the Afghan people is essential to defeating the terrorists."

Civilian casualties have become a major point of contention with the Afghan government and people.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has himself faced increased criticism from Western military and political leaders, has said the killing of civilians "strengthens the terrorists."

American officials, including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, have agreed with that assessment.

According to the United Nations, the number of civilian deaths caused by both NATO troops and militants has risen by nearly 40 percent since 2007.

And as the violence spreads, NATO forces have been calling in more airstrikes. According to military figures, the number of air-support missions flown in Afghanistan has spiked from around 6,000 in 2004 to nearly 20,000 last year. The number of bombs dropped during those missions increased from around 100 to just more than 3,300.

The agreement announced Friday comes as the U.S. prepares to send an additional 30,000 troops to the country. Most of those forces are expected to deploy to Kandahar and other southern provinces over the course of the next year and a half, according to U.S. and ISAF military officials.

There are already some 61,000 U.S. and NATO-led troops in the country. The United States and other countries lost 294 soldiers in Afghanistan last year, the highest annual toll since the Taliban regime was ousted in 2001.

The agreement came after "a series of consultations over tactics and procedures of joint operations," the U.S. Forces Afghanistan release read.

"… The officials have agreed to include more Afghan representatives in the planning and execution of counter-terrorism missions, with more attention to night operations, actions in populated areas and searches."

"We will work together as a team to defeat a common enemy."

For his part, Karzai has criticized NATO and demanded changes to the way the war is being fought. In a January speech to Afghanistan’s parliament, Karzai — who faces a presidential election this year — said, "We don’t accept civilian casualties in our land in the war on terrorism."

"We have never complained about our police being martyred — thousands of our police have been martyred. We have never complained about the deaths of our soldiers — hundreds have died," he said. "If thousands are killed in the war on terrorism ... we will accept that. But we don’t and will never accept civilian casualties in our land."


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