Afghan leader criticizes U.S., NATO over civilian casualties

The Baltimore Sun

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Somber, impatient and angry, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan accused the U.S. military and its NATO allies yesterday of carrying out "careless operations" that led to civilian casualties, asserting that "Afghan life is not cheap and should not be treated as such."

His remarks, made on the front lawn of the presidential palace, came in response to a week in which more than 100 civilian deaths have been reported from airstrikes and artillery fire against the Taliban.

"The extreme use of force, the disproportionate use of force to a situation, and the lack of coordination with the Afghan government is causing these casualties," he said. "You don't fight a terrorist by firing a field gun from 37 kilometers away into a target. That is definitely bound to cause civilian casualties. You don't hit a few terrorists with field guns."

Karzai has made these criticisms before in recent months. While his rebuke yesterday was more irate in tone, he was still vague about his government's intended recourse if civilian deaths continue to mount. "Either this cooperation and coordination will be created and applied, or Afghanistan will take its decision in this regard," he said.

More than 50,000 foreign troops are operating in Afghanistan, the bulk of them Americans. The Taliban insurgency has employed guerrilla tactics that include attacks on police stations, aid workers and schools. The Taliban commonly hide among civilians, and NATO officials insist that it is the insurgents who deserve blame when innocents die.

Late yesterday, there were fresh reports of civilian deaths, this time in Paktika province along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, where NATO forces and the U.S.-led coalition said they had killed 60 insurgents. During the fighting, a rocket landed across the border and hit a house, killing nine civilians, according to a Pakistan army spokesman quoted by the Associated Press.

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