The transition will continue in the coming months. This summer, a number of districts and provinces will be formally entrusted to Afghan security forces, the third round of regional transitions. In September, Afghans will assume responsibility for the U.S. military prison at Bagram, with about 3,000 detainees.
In the past, Western officials questioned whether Karzai’s opposition to night raids and other U.S.-led operations was politically driven — aimed at proving to his people that he was capable of resisting American demands.
Now, with more transitional milestones looming, Afghan political and military leaders say their growing responsibility has made the issue of civilian casualties even more delicate.
“Most of the people will say, ‘I don’t blame the foreigners if they kill us, but why do you kill me?’ ” Karimi said. “We have to be concerned. We have to have people on our side.”
Each time civilians are killed in either a NATO or Afghan operation, Karzai or one of his advisers calls the Defense Ministry for an explanation. Karimi said the president’s involvement in military affairs centers largely on reducing civilian casualties rather than on dictating troop levels or strategy.
NATO officials say they have greatly reduced the number of civilians killed in operations in recent years. The United Nations last year attributed 400 civilian deaths to NATO and Afghan forces, a slight decrease from 2010.
“We have significantly improved attention to detail when it comes to targeting,” a U.S. official said.
Human rights organizations say they fear that the methods and institutions developed by NATO to both track and prevent civilian casualties will not be replicated by the Afghan security forces.
“Right now, Afghan forces don’t have systems in place to prevent and respond to civilian casualties they may cause. International forces evolved their thinking over a decade, realizing they needed a civilian casualty tracking team and policies to investigate civilian harm caused by their own forces,” said Sarah Holewinski, executive director of the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict. “Without those systems in place, verbal commitments from the Afghan government to not harm civilians are likely to fall flat as Afghan forces take over.”