Mon, Jun 11, 2012 - Page 5 News List

Tension escalates in Afghanistan

BAD TO WORSE:A raid on Wednesday that caused civilian casualties has worsened Afghan-US relations, while a suicide attack on French forces has sped up France’s exit

AP, KABUL

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said that the US has put the two countries’ security pact at risk with a unilateral airstrike that killed 18 civilians on Wednesday.

The majority of NATO and US forces are scheduled to leave the country by the end of 2014, but the exit is looking far from neat at the beginning of the summer when fighting typically surges.

France is already rushing to get its forces out by the end of this year, and the deaths of four French soldiers in a Taliban suicide bombing yesterday has made withdrawal seem more urgent.

The US has tried to create an orderly transition through a series of agreements covering detentions, village raids and its long-term commitment to Afghanistan. However, the Wednesday airstrike showed how quickly those deals divorce from the reality on the ground.

Afghan presidential spokesman Aimal Faizi said that Karzai met with investigators and concluded that US troops had called in the aircraft without coordinating with Afghan units — so according to Kabul they violated the terms of its agreements with Washington.

The pact signed by the US and Afghanistan in April put the Afghan government in charge of most such “special operations” to relieve tensions about the raids.

However, Faizi called the airstrike a “one-sided” decision that had not been coordinated with the Afghans. He added that Kabul felt that the US was not holding to the promises it made in that accord, as well as a larger strategic partnership agreement signed last month.

If another unapproved airstrike occurs, he said, the Afghan government will have to consider that the US troops part of an “occupation.”

The Logar strike was the fifth incident of civilian casualties from US unilateral actions since the long-term partnership was signed, Faizi said.

Top US commander in Afghanistan General John Allen 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, a spokesman for NATO forces in Afghanistan declined to comment on the Afghan investigators’ findings. He said that Afghan forces had approved the larger Logar operation.

“The operation as a whole was approved by the Afghans. This was an Afghan/coalition operation,” Colonel Gary Kolb said.

According to a separate statement issued by the president’s office, Karzai met with Allen and the US ambassador to Afghanistan, and the general promised him that there would no longer be any airstrikes against Afghan homes or in Afghan villages.

A spokesman for US forces declined to confirm Karzai’s assertion, saying only that procedures were under review.

Karzai’s statements came on the same day of the suicide attack on French forces.

French troops were responding to a report of a bomb planted under a bridge in the main market of Kapisa Province’s Nijrab District when a suicide bomber walked up to them and detonated his explosives, said Qais Qadri, a spokesman for the provincial government.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in an e-mail from spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid.

The deaths bring the number of international troops killed this month to 13, and to 189 so far this year.

Recently elected French President Francois Hollande campaigned on a promise to pull all of France’s combat troops out of Afghanistan by the end of the year.

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