Afghanistan Pushes Back

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Thursday, August 28, 2008; 11:45 AM

Apparently taking his cues from Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Afghan President Hamid Karzai is calling for some limits on what President Bush can do in his country.

Karen DeYoung writes in The Washington Post: "For the past six years, military relations between the United States and Afghanistan have been governed by a two-page 'diplomatic note' giving U.S. forces virtual carte blanche to conduct operations as they see fit.

"Although President Bush pledged in a 2005 declaration signed with Afghan President Hamid Karzai to 'develop appropriate arrangements and agreements' formally spelling out the terms of the U.S. troop presence and other bilateral ties, no such agreements were drawn up.

"But after a U.S.-led airstrike last week that United Nations and Afghan officials have said killed up to 90 civilians -- most of them children -- Karzai has publicly called for a review of all foreign forces in Afghanistan and a formal 'status of forces agreement,' along the lines of an accord being negotiated between the United States and Iraq.

"The prospect of codifying the ad hoc rules under which U.S. forces have operated in Afghanistan since late 2001 sends shudders through the Bush administration, which has struggled to finalize its agreement with Baghdad. 'It's never been done because the issues have been too big to surmount,' said one U.S. official who was not authorized to discuss the subject on the record. 'The most diplomatic way of saying it is that there are just a lot of moving parts,' the official said. . . .

"Civilian casualties, long a recurring problem in Afghanistan, tripled last year as thinly spread U.S. and NATO forces grew more dependent on air power against a resurgent Taliban. . . .

"According to the U.S. Air Forces Central Combined Air and Space Operations Center, the number of strikes this year in which munitions were dropped totaled 2,368 as of Aug. 4. The equivalent number for the same period in Iraq was 783."

Eric Schmitt writes in the New York Times: "American military officials sought on Wednesday to refute claims that as many as 90 civilians -- among them 60 children -- were killed in airstrikes on a village in western Afghanistan last Friday.

"In the face of an investigation by Afghan officials and a report by a United Nations team that support the high number of deaths, United States officials maintain that 25 militants and 5 civilians were killed in airstrikes called in after Afghan and American commandos came under heavy fire during a raid on the compound of a top Taliban commander. . . .

"The political and diplomatic consequences of the attack have been mounting by the day, with the government of President Hamid Karzai using the episode to demand greater coordination between Afghan and allied forces.

"On Tuesday, a United Nations human rights team said it had found 'convincing evidence' to support the higher death toll, corroborating figures given earlier by a government commission sent from Kabul to investigate the bombing, which put the total dead at up to 95.

"But American officials, venting frustration over what they said were cursory reviews, said Wednesday that neither investigation had found any physical evidence to support the higher death tolls, and instead relied on the word of villagers who either supported or were cowed by Taliban fighters in the region.

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