KABUL, Afghanistan - The Associated Press
Afghanistan's government demanded a review of the presence of U.S. and NATO troops in the country and their use of airstrikes in civilian areas, following allegations that many civilians died in raids and airstrikes by foreign forces in recent weeks.
In a harshly worded statement, President Hamid Karzai's government ordered its ministries of foreign affairs and defense to review the presence of foreign troops, regulate their presence with a status of forces agreement and negotiate a possible end to "airstrikes on civilian targets, uncoordinated house searches and illegal detention of Afghan civilians."
The statement released late Monday appears to be aimed at both international forces operating in Afghanistan: the U.S.-led coalition, which conducts special forces counterterrorism operations and trains the fledgling Afghan army and police, and the U.N.-mandated NATO-led force tasked to provide security for the war-ravaged nation.
Capt. Mike Windsor, a spokesman for the NATO-led force, said the force had seen media reports about the government's decision but had not received "any official notification so far." He pointed out that NATO's "mission is based on a U.N. mandate and carried upon the invitation of the Afghan government." There was no immediate comment from the U.S.-led coalition.
The government's decision follows a weekend clash and airstrikes in western Afghanistan where Afghan officials say some 90 civilians, including women and children, were killed. U.S.-led coalition troops, which were supporting Afghan commandos during the raid, said they believe that 25 militants, including a Taliban commander, and five civilians were killed during the Friday raid in Azizabad village of Herat province. Originally the U.S. coalition said the battle killed 30 militants.
White House spokesman Tony Fratto told reporters Monday that foreign forces in Afghanistan "take every precaution to try to avoid innocent civilian casualties."
Investigation under way:
Asked about Karzai's concerns about civilian casualties, Fratto said an investigation was under way. He said the U.S. Defense Department believes "it was a good strike."
But Afghan officials seem to have been angered by the Azizabad violence. "The government of Afghanistan has repeatedly discussed the issue of civilian casualties with the international forces and asked for all air raids on civilian targets, especially in Afghan villages, to be stopped," the government statement said.
"The issues of uncoordinated house searches and harassing civilians have also been of concern to the government of Afghanistan which has been shared with the commanders of international forces in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, to date, our demands have not been addressed, rather, more civilians, including women and children, are losing their lives as a result of air raids," it said.
NATO and U.S. officials insist that they take great care in their targeting and accuse the militants of hiding in civilians areas, thus putting innocent people at risk.
The decision also comes a year ahead of Afghanistan's presidential elections amid growing criticism that Karzai's government is unable to contain the insurgency and deal with the deep-rooted corruption that afflicts officials in the government. Karzai has said he will contest the election. No date has been set yet.
Russian official warns NATO transit to Afghanistan at risk
LONDON - Agence France-Presse
NATO should not be able to use Russian routes to transit supplies and equipment to Afghanistan because Russia has suspended military co-operation with the Western alliance, the country's ambassador to Kabul argued in an interview published yesterday.
Speaking to The Times from the Afghan capital, Zamir Kabulov said increased tensions between Russia and West over the former's recent assault on Georgia could lead Moscow to review other such agreements.
Asked by the newspaper if Russia's suspension of military co-operation with NATO invalidated an April agreement on the transit of supplies to Afghanistan, Kabulov said: "Of course. Why not? If there is a suspension of military cooperation, this is military cooperation." "No one with common sense can expect to co-operate with Russia in one part of the world while acting against it in another," he added.
He insisted, however, that Russia was not seeking to derail NATO efforts in Afghanistan, telling The Times: "It's not in Russia's interests for NATO to be defeated and leave behind all these problems."
"We'd prefer NATO to complete its job and then leave this unnatural geography. "But at the same time, we'll be the last ones to moan about NATO's departure."
NATO leads the 53,000-strong International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which is tasked with spreading the influence of Kabul's weak central government across the country. But five years after taking charge, ISAF is struggling to defeat a tenacious Taliban-led insurgency, in part commanded from across the porous mountain border with Pakistan.