- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 18, 2009

ASSOCIATED PRESS

President Obama says he’s sending additional U.S. troops into Afghanistan to battle insurgent threats and crumbling security along the Pakistan border.

Mr. Obama has approved a Pentagon request to deploy Marines and Army troops to the region. Congressional officials say an estimated 17,000 troops will go in the coming months.

In a statement Tuesday, Mr. Obama called sending armed forces into harm’s way one of a president’s most solemn duties.

But he said deteriorating security in Afghanistan made it necessary, adding that the country has not received the strategic attention or resources it needs.

Mr. Obama also said he is withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. He said that will give the Pentagon more flexibility in shifting troops to Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the United Nations said the number of Afghan civilians killed in armed conflict surged to a record 2,118 people last year as the Afghan war turned increasingly bloody.

Insurgents were responsible for 55 percent of the deaths, but U.S., NATO and Afghan forces killed 39 percent, the report said. Of those 829 deaths by the forces, 552 were blamed on air strikes.

Civilian deaths have been a huge source of friction between the U.S. and President Hamid Karzai, who says such deaths undermine his government and the international mission.

The deaths rose 40 percent last year, and the numbers could grow as the United States plans to shift tens of thousands of soldiers to Afghanistan this year to take on the Taliban and other militants.

Close to 3,000 U.S. forces who recently arrived to secure two violent provinces near Kabul have begun operations, and their commander admitted that civilian casualties could increase because of their presence.

Despite new battlefield rules meant to reduce civilian casualties, U.S., NATO and Afghan troops killed 31 percent more civilians in 2008 than the year before, the U.N.’s annual report on the protection of civilians said. In 2007, the U.N. said those forces killed 629 civilians.

“As the conflict has intensified, it is taking an increasingly heavy toll on civilians,” the U.N. said.

In another development, Gen. David H. Petraeus was in Uzbekistan to meet with President Islam Karimov to discuss re-establishing a military base to support operations in Afghanistan, the U.S. Embassy in the capital, Bishkek, said without providing details.

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