Nato official clarifies Kabul child safety comment

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Media captionMark Sedwill: 'Children are safer here than London, New York or Glasgow'

A senior Nato official who said children may be safer growing up in Kabul than London or Glasgow has sought to distance himself from his comments.

Mark Sedwill had told CBBC's Newsround most children in the Afghan capital could go about their lives in safety.

But he later said the comparison "wasn't very well put" and distracted from the point he was trying to make.

Some Kabul youngsters told Newsround of their fears, and Save the Children said the claim was "wrong and misleading".

Nato's senior civilian representative admitted any comment he had to clarify was clearly not well phrased.

'Very few bombs'

He said: "I was trying to explain to an audience of British children how uneven violence is across Afghanistan.

"Half the insurgent violence takes place in 10 of the 365 districts and, in those places, children are too often the victims of IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) and other dangers.

"But, in cities like Kabul where security has improved, the total levels of violence, including criminal violence, are comparable to those which many western children would experience."

Earlier, he was criticised for saying as a "city of villages", Kabul was better for youngsters than many Western cities, despite the dangers posed by the conflict.

He told Newsround: "Here in Kabul and the other big cities (in Afghanistan) actually there are very few of those bombs.

"The children are probably safer here than they would be in London, New York or Glasgow or many other cities."

Kabul has borne the brunt of the war in Afghanistan and although the security situation there has improved of late, it is still deemed a dangerous place to live.

The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office website advises against all but essential travel to parts of Afghanistan, and that nobody visits the areas worst-hit by fighting.

It says Kabul has witnessed a "significant escalation in the number of suicide and rocket attacks in the last year.

Since late August 2009, there have been 14 'successful' suicide attacks in the city, with at least five others known to have been thwarted."

Several young people interviewed by Sonali Shah, a presenter for BBC children's channel CBBC, spoke of their fear of violence.

Sohrad, a 16-year-old student, said: "Because of explosions happening in the city, it is frightening when we come to school. We are afraid of explosions in the school."

And Manija, 11, also from Kabul, described the reality of growing up in a country at war.

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Media captionAfghan children: "We get scared of bombs in school"

She said: "When there are explosions I get sad because people are dying, but the next day when they are living a normal life and celebrating I get happy."

The chief executive of Save the Children, Justin Forsyth, said it was wrong to make the comparison with children living in Western cities.

"Afghanistan is the worst place on earth to be born a child - one in four children living there will die before they reach the age of five," he said.

Hiding Taliban

"We should be listening to what children in Afghanistan are saying. Last year was the deadliest for children since late 2001, with more than a thousand killed because of the conflict.

"But it's not just about the bombs. A staggering 850 children die every day, many from easily preventable diseases such as diarrhoea or pneumonia, or because they are malnourished."

He said their lives were in "extreme danger" and the international community should put as much time and money into helping children as security operations.

A spokesman for Glasgow City Council said Mr Sedwill was wrong to include the city in his comments.

He said: "This comparison will simply lead people in Glasgow, London and New York to pull out the statistics showing how very wrong he is and his very important message to the people of Afghanistan will be lost."

When asked why Nato troops had not won the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, Mr Sedwill said: "It's not like the Second World War, or other wars that people are familiar with, where you fight on the battlefield.

"Because the Taliban can't fight that way... [what] they do is, they hide among the people. We are not going to leave Afghanistan. We are not going to leave Kabul until we are absolutely sure the Taliban can't return."

Leaders of Nato's 28 states have backed a strategy to transfer leadership for the fight against the Taliban to Afghan forces by the end of 2014.

Growing Up In A War Zone: A Newsround Special will be broadcast on CBBC at 1815 GMT on Monday 22 November

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