Karzai ‘demands’ Obama end civilian deaths

Karzai ‘demands’ Obama end civilian deaths

Kandahar: Afghan President Hamid Karzai made an immediate demand of Barack Obama on Wednesday, saying that the president-elect must prevent civilian casualties as Afghan villagers alleged that airstrikes killed or wounded dozens of women and children in a wedding party.

No Afghan officials could immediately confirm the number of alleged casualties, but Karzai referred to the incident at a news conference held to congratulate Obama on his US presidential election victory.

Karzai said that he hopes the election will bring peace to Afghanistan, life to Afghanistan and prosperity to the Afghan people and the rest of the world. He applauded America for its courage in electing Obama.

He also used the occasion to immediately press Obama to find a way to prevent civilians casualties in operations by foreign forces. He then said that the airstrikes had caused deaths in the Shah Wali Kot district of Kandahar province.

“Our demand is that there will be no civilian casualties in Afghanistan. We cannot win the fight against terrorism with airstrikes," Karzai said adding: “This is my first demand of the new president of the United States to put an end to civilian casualties."

The US military said that it had no immediate information on the incident.

The alleged airstrikes come only three months after the Afghan government found that a US operation killed some 90 civilians in western Afghanistan. A US report said 33 civilians died in that attack.

Another incident with a high number of civilian casualties could severely strain US-Afghan relations.

Two Afghan villagers told AP that dozens of women and children had been killed or wounded in airstrikes Monday in Shah Wali Kot.

A local government official, speaking on condition said that the deaths had occurred, though he did not have a precise figure.

One villager, Mohammad Zahir, 35, said that Taliban militants had fired on a US convoy near the village of Rosi Khan on Monday, and airstrikes later hit a wedding party in the village. Wedding parties in Afghanistan are segregated by gender, and Zahir said the airstrike hit the women’s party.

Zahir said that he personally counted 36 dead bodies. He said two were men and the rest were women and children. He estimated many more dozens of people had been killed and wounded.

Civilian deaths have long caused friction between Karzai’s government and the US and NATO. But following the US operation in western Afghanistan in August, relations between Afghanistan and the US were seriously damaged. Karzai called for a review of operations by US forces in Afghan villages.

An Afghan government commission found the 22 August attack on the village of Aziziabad killed some 90 Afghan civilians, a finding backed by a preliminary UN report. The US military at first said only 30 militants were killed and no civilians. But days later the military said up to seven civilians had died.

However, after video of Azizabad emerged days later showing what appeared to be dozens of bodies, the US appointed a US-based one-star general to investigate. His report found the US operation killed 33 civilians. The report said US troops were justified in firing on the village because militants had first fired on them and wounded a US soldier.

Karzai, speaking on the grounds of the presidential palace in Kabul, said: “Race, color and ethnicity will disappear as a factor in politics around the world because of Obama’s election."

He used the occasion to press the US government to take the fight (to) where the training centers and the resources of the terrorists are, a reference to Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas.

Obama has said that if he is elected, he could launch unilateral attacks on high-value terrorist targets in Pakistan as they become exposed and if Pakistan cannot or will not act against them.