Karzai: U.S. failed to consult Afghans on airstrike

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Saturday that the United States failed to consult Afghan forces when calling in an airstrike that killed 18 civilians, and he warned that in the future his government will consider such actions as violating the country’s pact with Washington.

In the east, meanwhile, a Taliban suicide bomber disguised as a woman wearing a burqa killed four French soldiers when he blew himself up in a market.

Both Mr. Karzai’s condemnation of the U.S. operation and the French deaths as that country rushes to pull out its combat forces were reminders that the international exit from Afghanistan is going to be far from orderly. As more agreements are signed promising Afghan sovereignty and more NATO troops are assigned the role of trainers or advisers, the international mission in the county is becoming increasingly muddled.

Presidential spokesman Aimal Faizi said Mr. Karzai had met with investigators earlier in the day and concluded that U.S. troops had called in Wednesday’s strike without coordinating with Afghan units.

The incident occurred during a nighttime raid on militants taking cover in a village. These raids are a major irritant in Mr. Karzai’s relationship with the international military coalition. Mr. Karzai says the raids put civilians at risk of injury or death. Military officials say such operations are key to capturing and killing Taliban leaders.

The U.S. and Afghanistan signed an agreement in April that put the Afghan government in charge of most such “special operations” — a move designed to resolve some of the longstanding tensions.

But when villagers in Logar province displayed the bodies of 18 civilians killed in a U.S. airstrike on Wednesday, Mr. Karzai quickly called on the international coalition to explain itself. Mr. Faizi said that the investigators told the president that Afghan forces had surrounded the house in question but that the U.S. troops decided not to wait for them to try to flush out the militants and called in aircraft instead. They only discovered later that there had also been women, children and old men inside.

“This airstrike was a one-sided decision and not coordinated with Afghan security forces,” Mr. Faizi said. He said that Mr. Karzai and his advisers decided after hearing the investigators’ report that they would consider such actions in the future as a breach of the special operations pact.

“The continuation of uncoordinated operations and civilian casualties are against the recent decisions made between Afghanistan and the United States,” Mr. Faizi said. He said the Afghan government felt that the United States was not holding to the promises it made in the night-raids pact and a larger strategic partnership agreement signed afterwards.

“The expectation of the Afghan government and the Afghan people was that a new page would open between Afghanistan and the United States,” the spokesman said. If another unapproved airstrike occurs, he said, the Afghan government will have to consider that the U.S. troops part of an “occupation.” Mr. Karzai at times said the foreign troops risked becoming “occupiers” prior to the signing of the pact.

According to a separate statement issued by the president’s office, Mr. Karzai met with the top U.S. military commander in the country and the U.S. ambassador and told them that there had been multiple times since the signing of the broad long term partnership last month that international airstrikes had killed or injured civilians.

“Afghanistan signed a long-term strategic partnership with the United States with this condition and with this hope: that the villages and houses of the people would be safe,” the statement said. It went on to say that U.S. Marine Corps Gen. John Allen promised Mr. Karzai that there no longer would be any airstrikes against Afghan homes or in Afghan villages. NATO spokesmen did not immediately respond to calls to confirm the statement.

The U.S. commander in Afghanistan apologized for the civilian deaths on Friday, and a NATO investigation ruled that the coalition forces were responsible for the unintended deaths of civilians. However, NATO officials have not said that they acted against the special operations agreement.

A spokesman for NATO forces in Afghanistan declined to comment on the Afghan findings, but he said the country’s forces had approved the larger Logar operation.

“The operation as a whole was approved by the Afghans. This was an Afghan-coalition operation,” Col. Gary Kolb said. Both Col. Kolb and U.S. Embassy spokesman Gavin Sundwall declined to comment on whether the pact on special operations had been violated in the Logar incident.

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