Gates Says US Will Not Abandon Afghanistan

Robert Gates, S. Defense Secretary standing beside Afghan President Hamid Karzai, said today that the buildup of troops ordered by President Obama will not change U.S. policy that stresses the avoidance of civilian casualties during clashes with the Taliban.

Even as it gets increasingly aggressive against the Taliban, the U.S. will continue to put a priority on safeguarding civilians, Gates said at a joint news conference, "unlike the enemies of Afghanistan who target innocent Afghans and lie about it."

The issue of civilian casualties, particularly those caused by aerial bombardment, has occasionally strained the relationship between Karzai and the U.S. The top U.S. military officer in Afghanistan, Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has made avoiding civilian deaths a major part of his strategy to win the support of the Afghan population, The Los Angeles Times reports.

After talks with visiting US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, Mr Karzai said he hoped the US and the international community would continue funding them.

Mr Gates said the US would not turn away from Afghanistan and abandon it.

His unannounced arrival in Kabul came a week after US President Barack Obama said he was sending 30,000 more troops.

Nato member states have agreed to deploy another 7,000 soldiers between them.

Meanwhile, in a sign of the country's security difficulties, there were reports on Tuesday that Afghan officers had opened fire during a protest by villagers over the deaths of civilians, which they say occurred during a Nato operation, BBC News reports.

Xinhua quoted Gates as saying, "Our troops are here only as long as it takes to help you defeat your enemies, we will fight by your side until Afghan forces are large enough and strong enough to secure the nation on their own as they have already done in Kabul."

"Our relationship with Afghanistan is long term commitment as security improves and we begin turning on the responsibly to Afghans, but our relationship with other areas will be grown especially on economic and development," he further added.

Assuring Washington's firm support, he noted that "President Obama has said repeatedly our government will not again turn back on this country or the region." But added, "the Americans commitment was not open-ended."

"Afghanistan is looking forward to taking the lead in securing the nation within five years but our nation would need financial help to pay the salaries and equip the growing security forces," President Karzai said for his part at the joint press conference.

Calling on international community for more support, Afghan President said that "it will not be able to sustain a force of that nature and capability with its own resources," Xinhua reports.

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