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KABUL (Reuters) - The American military in Afghanistan says it will delay announcing any troop casualties until after next of kin have been notified, potentially leaving casualties unreported for days.
The change in policy was instituted by General John Nicholson, the senior U.S. commander in Kabul, over fears that families could be left guessing for days after casualties have been publicly announced but not identified, and before families could be notified, said military spokesman Captain Bill Salvin.
"It's a balance we're trying to strike between trying to provide all the support we can to families, while also informing the public," he told Reuters.
Previously, the U.S. military command in Kabul issued a initial announcement only stating that a soldier had been killed, often including a general location within Afghanistan, but not identifying the casualties.
Once the soldier's family or next of kin had been notified, the Pentagon would release more details, including names and home units.
The change in policy was revealed this week when U.S. Army Private First Class Hansen Kirkpatrick was killed in Afghanistan's Helmand province on Monday, but officials did not announce that a soldier had been killed until Wednesday, when his death and identity was released.
Buzzfeed news reported on Wednesday that the policy only applied to Afghanistan, and had not been introduced in other war zones like Iraq and Syria.
Salvin confirmed that the new policy was ordered by Nicholson but said military spokesmen would continue to release casualty reports, albeit on a more delayed schedule.
"There might be a bit longer period before we report it," he said.
About 13,000 U.S. and allied troops in a NATO-led force are deployed in Afghanistan to train and advise its security forces struggling against Taliban insurgents.
Several thousand additional American forces operate in a separate counterterrorism mission in the country. Kirkpatrick was part of that mission.
Salvin said the U.S. military would still respond to public reports of casualties, as occasionally happens when Afghan officials report casualties among foreign troops.
(Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Robert Birsel)