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

- Associated Press - Saturday, June 9, 2012

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.

The attack on the French forces took place as they were responding to a report of a bomb planted under a bridge in the main market area of Kapisa province's Nijrab district, said Qais Qadri, a spokesman for the provincial government.

The bomber walked up to the soldiers and detonated his explosives, Mr. Qadri said. France's Defense Ministry confirmed the nationality of the dead and said another five French troops were wounded in blast. The ministry said they were on an operation supporting the Afghan army but did not provide details.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack in an email.

Mr. Qadri said four Afghan civilians were also wounded.

The Kapisa bombing was the second deadly attack on NATO troops reported on Saturday. NATO forces said earlier in the day that a service member was killed in a bomb attack in the east. A spokesman for the international coalition, Maj. Martyn Crighton, said the attacks were not related and happened in different parts of the east.

The latest deaths bring to 13 the number of international troops killed in June. So far this year, 189 international service members have been killed in Afghanistan.

French President Francois Hollande said he has asked his defense minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, and the chief of staff of the French army, Edouard Guillaud, to travel to Afghanistan on Sunday in a show of support for France's troops there.

Speaking on French television from Tulle, France, Mr. Hollande said an aircraft already has left to fly to Afghanistan to repatriate the wounded as soon as possible.

The recently elected Mr. Hollande campaigned on a promise to pull all of France's combat troops out of Afghanistan by the end of the year — well before the 2014 goal for the majority of NATO combat troops to have left the country.

Last month, Mr. Hollande announced that 2,000 combat troops would be withdrawn but that he would leave around 1,400 soldiers behind to help with training and logistics.

France now has 3,400 troops and 150 gendarmes in Afghanistan. Under Mr. Hollande's plan, some would stay behind to help send military equipment back to France, and others would help train the Afghan army and police. He did not provide a breakdown for the roles of the 1,400 soldiers who will remain past 2012 or how long they would stay.

Mr. Hollande said Saturday that the drawdown of French troops in Afghanistan will begin in July and finish by the end of the year.

Kapisa province has been a particularly deadly posting for French troops. In January, an Afghan soldier shot and killed four French troops on a base in the province.

Associated Press writer Greg Keller contributed to this report from Paris

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