Karzai Decries Civilian Deaths

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By Griff Witte
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, June 24, 2007

KABUL, June 23 -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai chastised U.S. and NATO-led troops Saturday for their "careless operations" and accused them of killing more than 90 civilians in the past 10 days, as fresh reports emerged of more noncombatant deaths.

Using some of his strongest language yet against the foreign forces that occupy his country, Karzai asserted that "Afghan life is not cheap and it should not be treated as such."

"We do not want any more military operations without coordinating them with the Afghan government," a visibly angry Karzai said at a news conference in Kabul, the capital. "From now onwards, they have to work the way we ask them to work in here."

It was unclear late Saturday whether Karzai's statement indicated that he plans to formally restrict the operations of the 32,000 NATO-led troops and 21,000 U.S.-led troops who patrol Afghanistan.

Karzai has the power to place limits on what foreign forces can do here, although any attempt to exert that control would probably produce a strong backlash from the United States and other countries that contribute troops to Afghanistan. Military officials from those nations have said they need to act aggressively to quell a stubborn Taliban insurgency, and they say militants are deliberately provoking civilian deaths by hiding in residential areas.

Spokesmen for the NATO and U.S.-led forces declined to comment on Karzai's statements.

Karzai, a pro-Western leader who has generally welcomed the presence of international troops over the past 5 1/2 years, spoke after a series of incidents in recent days in which dozens of civilians have allegedly been killed in U.S. and NATO-led airstrikes.

Accusations of another such incident came Saturday, when the Pakistani military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad, said international troops fired rockets across the border overnight Friday and killed 10 civilians, including children. Arshad said that three or four houses were destroyed in the attack and that 14 people were injured.

"We have protested about what happened," Arshad said. "They were innocent people."

A NATO forces spokesman, Maj. John Thomas, acknowledged the Pakistani report and said the civilian death toll could be higher than 10.

Thomas said that NATO and U.S. forces were fighting about 50 Taliban insurgents along the Afghan-Pakistani border -- the largest contingent observed there in the past six months -- and that some of their firing was directed into Pakistan.

"It was a fluid situation," he said. "At some point, the activities did cross the border."

Thomas said the insurgents were killed. The fighting took place in the Afghan province of Paktika and the Pakistani tribal land of North Waziristan, areas where militant activity is heavy and the border is porous.

International troops operating in Afghanistan are not supposed to attack in Pakistan, although it has happened on numerous occasions. This month, residents of a Pakistani border village reported seeing an aerial drone fire missiles in an attack that killed more than 30 people.

In other incidents disclosed Saturday, a coalition soldier was killed in fighting in Afghanistan's Helmand province and at least 20 suspected insurgents were killed in neighboring Kandahar, according to U.S.-led forces.

Violence has spiked in Afghanistan in recent weeks, with the Taliban carrying out suicide attacks and engaging troops in firefights. At least 230 civilians have been killed this year in attacks by U.S. and NATO-led troops, according to estimates based on official tallies.

Special correspondents Javed Hamdard in Kabul and Shahzad Khurram in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, contributed to this report.

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