The Security Council voted unanimously Wednesday to extend U.N. authorization for the NATO-led force in Afghanistan for a year, expressing "strong concern" at the increase in terrorist activities by the Taliban, al-Qaida and other armed groups.
A resolution adopted by the U.N.'s most powerful body stressed the need for sustained efforts by the 143,000-strong International Security Assistance Force, known as ISAF, to assist the Afghan government in improving security and addressing extremist threats.
The council recognized the international commitment to support the phased transfer of security responsibility to the Afghan government and stressed the importance of training the Afghan army and national police.
It said this would "accelerate progress towards the goal of self-sufficient, accountable and ethnically balanced Afghan security forces providing security and ensuring the rule of law throughout the country."
Momentum for a political solution to the nine-year war has been slowly building in Afghanistan as public support for a drawn-out military push has waned in the West.
Sending thousands more U.S. troops this summer to the country's south has yet to show significantly increased security in the Taliban heartland, and violence has risen countrywide in recent months.
The council expressed "strong concern about the security situation in Afghanistan, in particular the increased violent and terrorist activities by the Taliban, al-Qaida, other illegal armed groups and criminals, including those involved in the narcotics trade, and the increasingly strong links between terrorism activities and illicit drugs, resulting in threats to the local population."
In hopes of promoting a peaceful resolution, Afghan President Hamid Karzai recently set up a 68-member council to guide formal talks with the Taliban. He said informal talks have been taking place, but there has been no formal contact with the Taliban's leadership.
The Security Council reiterated its call "on all Afghan parties and groups to engage constructively in peaceful political dialogue." It encouraged the Afghan government-led peace process, especially its program to reintegrate combatants into society.
But saying the situation in Afghanistan "still constitutes a threat to international peace and security," the council extended authorization of ISAF _ made up of 95,000 U.S. troops and 48,000 allied forces _ until Oct. 13, 2011.
The Security Council condemned all attacks targeting civilians as well as Afghan and international forces "in the strongest terms," singling out the use of civilians as human shields by the Taliban, al-Qaida and other extremist groups.
It expressed "serious concern" at the increased high number of civilian casualties, the large majority caused by the Taliban, al-Qaida and other extremist groups. It also urged ISAF to continue to undertake "enhanced efforts" to prevent civilian deaths.
The Security Council welcomed the Afghan government's ban on ammonium nitrate fertilizer, which can be used as an explosive, and it urged implementation of regulations to control all explosive materials and precursor chemicals which would reduce the ability of insurgents to make improvised explosive devices.
Planted on roadsides, these homemade bombs have killed and maimed hundreds of soldiers and civilians.