KABUL - President Hamid Karzai told the incoming commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan yesterday that the most important part of his new mission was to protect Afghan civilians.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal takes up his command today. The four-star U.S. general, a former special forces commander, is expected to bring a fresh approach to an increasingly violent eight-year war.

President Obama has increased the U.S. focus on Afghanistan this year, ordering 21,000 additional troops to the country as the U.S. military begins to pull out of Iraq.

Civilian casualties have long been a point of friction between Karzai and the U.S.

Also yesterday, Karzai called Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to congratulate him on his re-election. Karzai said that relations between Afghanistan and its western neighbor "expanded" under Ahmadinejad and that he hoped ties would continue to strengthen. *