U.S. Ends Afghan Insurgent Body Counts

The U.S. military in Afghanistan has stopped releasing body counts of insurgents believed killed in operations because the tolls distract from the U.S. objective of protecting Afghans, a spokesman said Monday.

The number of insurgents killed in Afghanistan has provided a bloody scorecard for the deteriorating conflict. Attacks by Taliban fighters have risen steadily the last three years, and militants now control wide swaths of countryside.

Nearly 3,800 insurgents were killed in 2008, based on figures collected by The Associated Press. Some of those numbers came from U.S. military statements; others came from Afghan authorities. So far in 2009, more than 2,310 insurgents have been killed, according to the AP count.

The U.S. military policy on releasing insurgent body counts has changed several times during the eight-year conflict, depending on the commander in charge.

The latest decision to stop releasing body counts was made in mid-June when Gen. Stanley McChrystal took command of all U.S. and NATO troops in the country, said spokesman Col. Greg Julian.

The militant death toll "distracts from the real objectives and isn't necessary to communicate what we're trying to achieve," Julian said. "We want to separate the people from the insurgency by improving their quality of life and opportunities."

Since taking command in Afghanistan, McChrystal has said repeatedly that the military needs to protect Afghan villagers instead of chasing and killing insurgents.

Civilian deaths caused by U.S. and NATO military operations have long been a source of friction between President Hamid Karzai and the international force. Such deaths alienate Afghan villagers, causing a loss of support for the international mission and the U.S.-backed Afghan government.

The U.S. military hopes to focus more on spreading the word about military efforts to help Afghans rebuild their lives by improving access to government and economic resources, Julian said.

In northwestern Afghanistan, meanwhile, the government and a local Taliban commander agreed to a cease-fire that will allow a road construction project to move forward and presidential candidates to open offices ahead of the country's Aug. 20 election, said Seyamak Herawi, a spokesman in Karzai's office.

The agreement covers the Bala Morghab district of northwestern Badghis province, an area where the Afghan government has little or no control. The cease-fire was agreed to on Saturday and was reached with the help of tribal elders, Herawi said.

However, Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi said no such agreement has been made.

"This is all propaganda by the Afghan government," he said. "We will continue our jihad and will not accept the request of the government for negotiations and cease-fire."

U.S. and NATO officials have said they expect negotiations to one day help bring about an end to the Afghan war, but that conditions are not yet right for talks to take place.

U.K. Operation to Oust Taliban in S. Afghan Stronghold Called a Success

Britain's defense ministry said an offensive to oust Taliban fighters from a stronghold in Afghanistan before next month's election has been a major success.

Brig. Tim Radford, commander of Britain's 9,000 troops in Afghanistan, told reporters Monday that the five-week mission had cleared insurgents from a key area in Helmand province in the south of the country.

He said almost all of an estimated 500 Taliban fighters in the area have either fled, laid down their weapons or been killed. The operation was aimed at securing the region before the election Aug. 20.

Twenty U.K. soldiers have died in July, but most were on unrelated missions.

Radford declined to say how many Taliban fighters were killed, but said they suffered significant losses.

The governor of Afghanistan's Helmand Province told tribal leaders Sunday that the country is ashamed that scores of British soldiers were killed helping the nation. Gulab Mangal, leader in the country's volatile southern badlands, spoke out at a meeting of village elders in Gereshk, Malgir.