Surging On

(AFP) – The United States plans a major offensive this year in the Taliban bastion of Kandahar in southern Afghanistan, a senior official said Friday, calling a hard-fought ongoing operation a mere prelude. The remarks were the latest sign that President Barack Obama’s administration plans to step up the fight against the Taliban as part of its strategy of pouring thousands more troops into Afghanistan.

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Kabul – The United Nations said Wednesday that 346 children were killed in Afghanistan last year, more than half of them by NATO forces, mostly in airstrikes. “In 2009, 346 children were killed,” Radhika Coomaraswamy, the special representative of the UN secretary general for children and armed conflict, said in Kabul after a seven-day visit the country. She said 131 children were killed in airstrikes, while 22 were killed in nighttime raids by international special forces. Taliban militants were responsible for the deaths of 128 children last year, with seven of the children used by militants as suicide bombers, she said. In 38 cases, it was not possible to determine who had killed the children. More than 2,400 civilians were killed last year, the deadliest for Afghan civilians since the fall of the Taliban regime in late 2001, according to the UN.

Coomaraswamy said she met with NATO commander in Afghanistan US General Stanley McChrystal, who assured her that troops “will work with the UN to ensure better protection for children.” But she noted that “recent events in the past months are cause of concern.” About 50 civilians have been killed since the NATO forces began their biggest-ever operation in the southern province of Helmand nearly two weeks ago. At least 27 of the casualties were caused by a NATO airstrike, and 12 others were killed by NATO rockets. McChrystal said he has put protecting civilians at centre of his war strategy and has ordered the 113,000 international troops to limit the use of airstrikes. Attacks by Taliban on schools reached their highest level in 2009, with more than 600 incidents recorded, Coomaraswamy said.

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