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Afghan Insurgent Tolls Not Needed, U.S. Military Says

Villagers pose with a bloody piece of cloth in the village of Wocha Bakhta in Kandahar Province.

Villagers pose with a bloody piece of cloth in the village of Wocha Bakhta in Kandahar Province.

KABUL (Reuters) -- The U.S. military in Afghanistan stopped releasing the number of insurgents it kills some time ago because it is often inaccurate or incomplete and distracts from the purpose of the overall mission, the military has said.

Foreign forces have shifted their focus in Afghanistan away from conventional warfare tactics to a counterinsurgency strategy since the arrival in June of General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of the 101,000 U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan.

McChrystal took over from sacked General David McKiernan and arrived in mid-June saying that the effectiveness of their mission would not be measured by the number of insurgents killed but rather by "the number of Afghans shielded from violence."

U.S. military spokeswoman Captain Elizabeth Mathias said on July 28 the decision not to release insurgent casualties had been made some time ago and was reinforced when McChrystal took over.

"We don't conduct operations simply to kill people, we do conduct operations to deter insurgents and protect civilians," Mathias said.

Afghan defense and government officials said the decision not to publish the numbers of insurgents killed was a matter for the U.S. military.

Afghanistan's Interior Ministry said it also did not keep tallies of the number of Taliban killed, but said between six and 10 police alone were killed each day fighting the insurgency.

Since his arrival, McChrystal has focused on reducing the number of civilian casualties during operations against insurgents and this month issued a new tactical directive limiting the use of air strikes against residential compounds.

McChrystal's new counterinsurgency strategy, aimed at winning the confidence of Afghans to turn them away from the insurgency, coincides with the launch of major operations on Taliban strongholds in southern Helmand province this month.

Attacks across Afghanistan were already at their highest level since the Taliban's ouster in 2001 and have escalated further since the Helmand operations began, with July the deadliest month of the war for U.S. and British troops.

Despite the surging violence, McChrystal has stressed the need to avoid civilian casualties and his new tactical directive includes orders to "disengage" from combat in residential areas unless troops are under imminent, deadly threat.

He says his troops must "convince people, not kill them."

Mathias said the decision was also taken because it was often hard to release accurate information straight after an incident.

"Sometimes we just cannot know with 100 percent certainty how many people have been killed or wounded. It takes time to do a proper battlefield assessment," she said.