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Civilian deaths prompted Afghan raid halt

KABUL, Afghanistan, March 10 (UPI) -- U.S. special forces in Afghanistan halted commando raids for two weeks in February because of outrage over the civilian deaths they caused, sources say.

Citing unnamed military officials, The New York Times reported Tuesday the stand-down was ordered by Vice Adm. William McRaven, the head of the military's Joint Special Operations Command, which oversees the secret commando units in Afghanistan.

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The newspaper said the order applied to all commando missions with the exception of those aimed at the highest-ranking leaders of the Taliban and al-Qaida. American special forces sometimes carry out dozens of such raids in Afghanistan each week, so the stand-down order indicated a high level of concern about civilian deaths, which analysts say are driving the Afghan population to support the Taliban, the sources said.

A February United Nations report blamed secret commando missions for contributing to an increase in Afghan civilian deaths last year, saying the number of civilian casualties rose nearly 40 percent. Taliban suicide bombings and other terror attacks, however, remained the primary cause of civilian casualties, it said.

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