Gates expresses concern about air-power use

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the Pentagon is "very concerned" about the procedures for using air power in Afghanistan, after recent U.S. airstrikes blamed for scores of civilian deaths.

Gates received a briefing on the matter at Bagram air base in Afghanistan and is pledging more accurate targeting in the future.

At an earlier meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and other senior government officials, Gates expressed his "personal regret" for the "loss of innocent life" in the strikes. He said the U.S. military takes precautions to avoid civilian casualties, but conceded "we have to work even harder." He told Afghan officials he would address the issue with U.S. commanders and pilots.

Gates also agreed to an Afghan government proposal to create a permanent joint investigative team to probe any incident involving civilian casualties.

Earlier, the commander of international forces in Afghanistan said a chronic shortage of U.S. troops is forcing commanders to rely more on airstrikes. General David McKiernan says at least three more combat brigades are needed beyond the one arriving in January.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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