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Afghan Defense Chief Says More Foreign Troops Will Curb Civilian Deaths

KABUL -- Defense Minister General Rahim Wardak says he thinks an increase in the number of foreign troops in Afghanistan will reduce the number of casualties among civilians, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reports.

After meeting in Kabul on February 4 with General John Craddock, NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe, Wardak said more soldiers on the ground will mean fewer air attacks and operations with heavy weapons and, in turn, a reduction in noncombatant deaths.

Afghan officials including President Hamid Karzai have been vocal in their criticism of international forces' tactics in the face of mounting civilian death figures.

NATO has repeatedly accused militants in Afghanistan of using locals as human shields and intentionally targeting noncombatants in an effort to discredit Western operations, while stressing its commitment to avoiding such incidents.

U.S. President Barack Obama has pledged to send thousands more U.S. troops to Afghanistan to reverse a trend of increasing violence and militant gains.

Wardak said he understood public concerns about the arrival of more international troops, but after assessing the matter his ministry concluded that having more foreign troops in Afghanistan will help protect civilians.

He repeated that Afghanistan is trying to strengthen its own army so that it can secure the country itself.