September 22, 2008 / 7:03 PM / in 10 years

U.N. council renews Afghan peacekeeping mandate

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council on Monday unanimously agreed to extend the mandate of NATO-led international forces in Afghanistan and called for redoubled efforts to avoid the death of innocent civilians.

German Bundeswehr army soldiers of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) take a rest during a joint patrol with Afghan National army soldiers in the mountains near Feyzabad, north of Kabul, September 21, 2008. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

The 15 council members approved a resolution that extended the mandate of NATO-led peacekeepers, known as the International Security Assistance Force, for another 12 months from October 13.

Approval of the resolution had been delayed as Russia pressed for inclusion of language condemning the increase in the number of civilians killed in Afghanistan.

The final text acknowledges “the efforts by ISAF and other international forces to minimize the risk of civilian casualties and (calls) on them to take additional robust efforts in this regard.”

The Russian and U.S. envoys to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin and Zalmay Khalilzad, told reporters separately after the vote that they were pleased with the final text.

A dispute over the death toll from a NATO air strike last month has increased tension between Washington and Kabul. The Afghan government and the United Nations said 96 civilians were killed in the attack while the U.S. military said it killed 30 to 35 Taliban and five to seven civilians.

Western diplomats had been concerned that Moscow might try to block the mandate renewal because of U.S. and European condemnation of its invasion of Georgia last month. But they said the Russian delegation appeared to be trying to keep tensions over Georgia separate from other issues.

“The Russians have concluded that the fallout from Georgia needs to be contained,” said a senior Western diplomat. “They could have made an issue out of it but they decided not to.”

Violence has surged to its worst level in Afghanistan this year, the bloodiest period since U.S.-led troops overthrew the Taliban government in 2001 for refusing to hand over Osama bin Laden after the September 11 attacks.

Despite an increase in foreign troops, now numbering more than 71,000, the al Qaeda-backed Taliban have intensified their guerrilla attacks and extended the scope of their activities.

At least 195 foreign troops have been killed in Afghanistan so far this year.

Additional reporting by Patrick Worsnip; Editing by Chris Wilson

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