- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 25, 2008

UNITED NATIONS | Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Wednesday criticized NATO’s accidental killing of Afghan civilians, saying the bombings are harming the credibility of the war on terror and foreign forces’ presence in his country.

Mr. Karzai also called on donor countries to redouble their efforts to strengthen the Afghan army and police, saying it is the only way to reduce casualties and improve relations with his country.

“Above all, the ‘Afghanisation’ of the military operations is vital if the problem of civilian casualties is to be addressed effectively,” the president said from the podium of the annual U.N. General Assembly gathering of world leaders.

“The continuing of civilian casualties can seriously undermine the legitimacy of fighting terrorism and the credibility of the Afghan people’s partnership with the international community.”

The United Nations last week estimated that 1,445 Afghans have been killed this year - 800 in militant operations, 577 by NATO and Afghan troops. That figure included 395 deaths caused by air strikes. Officials couldn’t determine who was responsible for 68 other civilian deaths.

The issue was propelled to the forefront of U.S.-Afghan relations when an Afghan commission found that an Aug. 22 U.S.-led operation in the western village of Azizabad killed 90 civilians, including 60 children. That finding was backed by a preliminary U.N. report.

The Pentagon says the actual number of casualties was much less but acknowledged the bombings occurred.

The Security Council on Monday extended for another year the mandate of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan but expressed concern about the high number of civilian casualties.

Despite seven years of NATO engagement, the Taliban and other insurgents have flourished in rural and isolated Afghanistan. The fighters escape capture by retreating into their villages or crossing the rugged border into Pakistan.

At least 885 NATO personnel have died since the start of operations in autumn 2001, including 513 Americans.

During this time, militants have also made headway in neighboring Pakistan, attacking police, secular civilians and government installations in the tribal areas and even reaching the capital, Islamabad. At least 60 people were killed in Sunday’s bombing of the city’s Marriott hotel.

“While Afghanistan has borne the brunt of terrorist violence, the scourge has spread like a wildfire across the wider region,” Mr. Karzai said.

“I call on a redoubling of efforts by the international community aimed at enabling the Afghan national security institutions, both the army and the police, to take on a greater share of the war against terrorism and the protection of our people,” he said.

Mr. Karzai’s was one of the few speeches to echo President Bush’s Tuesday address to the world body, which stressed the importance of concerted counterterrorism initiatives.