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UK Troop Operations Will Be Affected By Afghan Civilian Shootings In Kandahar, Says Minister

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UK troops in Afghanistan will be on the highest state of vigiliance following the massacre of Afghan civilians by a US solider in Kandahar, the Armed Forces Minister Nick Harvey told the Commons on Monday afternoon.

"Vigilance was already high after the Koran burning incident," Harvey told MPs. "Following this vigilance will be at an even greater height. Commanders on the ground will be making whatever sensible arrangements they may feel necessary.

Harvey said that members of the Afghan National Army would be conducting many more night operations in Helmand province "for the foreseeable future."

Despite the attack on Sunday - which left nine children among 16 civilians shot, apparently in cold blood - Nick Harvey insisted that the atrocity would have no effect on the timetable for combat withdrawl from Afghanistan, scheduled for 2014.

Harvey maintained it was a "realistic timetable", describing the Afghan national security forces buildup as "impressive", with a "culture of leadership" developing.

His comments echo those of Downing Street, which earlier on Monday signalled that there would be no change of policy towards Afghanistan.

However some Labour MPs are concerned that the ISAF forces are not on track to achieve a satisfactory withdrawl in fewer than three years.

Labour MP David Winnick said in the Commons: "Would the minister accept there is a growing feeling in this country, that this is an un-winnable war, where people no longer accept the official line?"

Former foreign secretary David Miliband questioned whether attempts to form a stable political culture in Afghanistan were working. "The difficulty is that the Afghan government is seen by many of the Afghans as a significant part of the problem," he told MPs.

"The best thing that we could do is for the international community to appoint an international mediator.

"If we do not start working on it now, every day weakens the chances of establishing a stable Afghanistan when we leave," he concluded.

Nick Harvey said it was his assessment that the political situation in the region was improving. "The Afghan and Pakistani governments are now more willing to engage in a political process than until very recently." he said.

"Applying military pressure to the Taliban has probably made them more willing to sit down and negotiate."

On Tuesday David Cameron will fly to Washington DC for a series of meetings with President Obama, accompanied by the Chancellor and Foreign Secretary.

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