Kabul furious at NATO civilian killings
Published Thursday, June 7, 2012
Afghan President Hamid Karzai Thursday condemned as unacceptable a NATO airstrike that killed 18 civilians and would cut short a trip to Beijing to return home, his office said.
"Attacks by NATO that cause life and property losses to civilians under no circumstances could be justified and are not acceptable," Karzai said of the attack Wednesday in Logar province south of Kabul.
Karzai "is deeply grieved" over the deaths of civilians in the NATO strike and in a Kandahar suicide bombing on the same day and "will shorten his trip to China and will very soon return to the country", the palace said.
The president's strong condemnation came as US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was in Kabul to assess the state of the war and plans for the withdrawal of US troops.
Karzai is in Beijing for a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a regional grouping led by Russia and China, and was briefed on the two incidents by phone, his office said.
NATO's US-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said "multiple insurgents" were killed in the airstrike, which was ordered after troops came under fire during an operation against a Taliban insurgent leader.
But after local police said 18 civilians, including women and children, were killed in the strike, ISAF said it would investigate the charges.
US and NATO killings of Afghan civilians have been a frequent source of tension between Karzai and the United States.
In the Taliban suicide attack on Wednesday, 23 civilians were killed when two bombers blew themselves up at a makeshift bazaar and truck stop near a major NATO base in southern Kandahar province.
Panetta in Afghanistan
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta landed in Afghanistan amid fury over yet another NATO killing of civilians, telling troops in on Thursday that the decade-long war was at "a turning point."
Panetta noted a recent "uptick" in violence and said a double suicide attack on Wednesday outside the largest NATO base in the south that killed 23 people was "much more organised than we've seen before."
But the US defence chief sought to reassure soldiers that their sacrifices had not been in vain and Afghans that NATO's drawdown did not mean they would be abandoned.
Noting the end of the US occupation in Iraq that left the country severely fractured, Panetta told soldiers gathered at the heavily fortified Kabul airport that "hopefully we'll be able to accomplish the mission in Afghanistan as well."
The post-2014 role, the size of which is yet to be determined, would include fighting "terrorism" and training and advising, he said.
"We've lost a lot of people in battle... We've got to make damn sure they didn't die in vain."