The top US commander in Afghanistan apologized to Afghan President Hamid Karzai for a drone strike which killed a child, and NATO on Friday promised an investigation as rising tensions threatened efforts to persuade the Afghan leader to sign a long-delayed security agreement.
US Marine General Joseph Dunford called Karzai on Thursday to express “deep regrets for the incident and any civilian casualties,” the commander’s spokesman said.
Karzai condemned the attack, which also wounded two women earlier on Thursday, and said all airstrikes and foreign raids on Afghan homes must stop if the US expects him to sign the pact, which would allow thousands of Americans to stay in the country beyond a withdrawal deadline set dor next year.
“This attack shows that American forces do not respect the safety of the Afghan people in their homes,” Karzai said in a Dari-language statement on his Web site.
The two governments have agreed on a draft bilateral security agreement and it was approved by a consultative Afghan council known as a Loya Jirga.
Karzai shocked the assembly and the US when he announced he would not sign the deal, but would instead leave that up to his successor following April 5 elections. The 2,500-member Loya Jirga had also demanded it be signed by the end of next month.
US President Barack Obama’s administration has been trying to persuade Karzai to change his mind and sign the deal by the end of the year to allow enough time to make preparations for a continuing presence after the NATO and UN mandates for foreign troops in the country expires at the end of next year.
In the phone call, Dunford talked to Karzai directly and “expressed deep regrets for the incident and any civilian casualties” and assured Karzai that an investigation would be conducted into Thursday’s airstrike, which the Afghan president said was carried out by a drone in southern Helmand Province.
“He talked to President Karzai directly, expressed deep regrets for the incident and any civilian casualties, and promised to convene an immediate joint investigation to determine all the facts of what happened,” Dunford’s spokesman Colonel David Lapan said in an e-mail.
The coalition, known as the International Security Assistance Force, said the airstrike had killed an insurgent on a motorbike in Helmand and also promised to investigate Karzai’s claims that it also killed a child and injured two women.
Civilian deaths at the hands of US and allied soldiers have been one of the main sources of contention in increasingly tense relations with Karzai over the years, although such killings have fallen off sharply in recent years following stricter NATO guidelines on the use of air power against ground targets.
The Taliban and other insurgent groups are blamed for the overwhelming majority of civilian casualties, most of which are caused by roadside bombs targeting Afghan or foreign forces.
Insurgents have carried out attacks against government and elected officials as well as people working for the administration.
In one such attack on Friday in Kabul, a suicide bomber with explosives hidden in his turban wounded a member of parliament at his home.
The attacker pretended to be a constituent, then blew himself up when he entered the home of Hamidullah Tokhi, a lawmaker from southern Zabul Province, Kabul police chief Mohammad Zahir said.