BRUSSELS (Reuters) - NATO and Afghanistan agreed on Thursday they needed to coordinate more closely to avoid civilian casualties in operations against militants, an alliance spokesman said.
More than 500 civilians have been killed during operations by foreign and Afghan forces against the militants so far this year, according to the Afghan government and some aid groups, fuelling public anger and causing a rift with foreign forces.
NATO spokesman James Appathurai said there was “a general shared view” in a meeting between NATO ambassadors and Afghan Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak that there needed to be closer coordination between Afghan and NATO forces.
There was also agreement on the need to give “a much more important role to Afghan forces in the conduct of searches, which are sensitive in Afghanistan, but also with regard to planning of offensive operations,” he said.
The two sides also agreed on the need for closer coordination, including with the United Nations, when it came to investigating civilian casualties so discrepancies in numbers did not occur, Appathurai said.
Anger has mounted in Afghanistan over a August 22 raid in Shindand district of the western province of Herat in which Kabul says more than 90 people, mostly women and children, were killed, an allegation backed by the United Nations.
The U.S. military disputes the figure, saying its investigation found five to seven civilians were killed in the operation carried out with the Afghan National Army.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force did not take part in this operation, but has been responsible for civilian casualties in the past.
Villagers said false information about the presence of Taliban militants in the area had been fed to the coalition forces which led to the raid.
The U.S. military has offered a three-way investigation into the civilian deaths, which the Afghan government and the United Nations will take part in.
The ambassadors and Wardak also discussed Afghan proposals to almost double the size of the Afghan army to 122,000 and NATO would probably back the plan if it were approved, Appathurai said.
Reporting by David Brunnstrom; editing by Keith Weir