KABUL, Afghanistan — President Hamid Karzai’s government has demanded a review of the presence of U.S. and NATO troops in the country amid allegations that large numbers of civilians have died in raids and airstrikes by foreign forces in recent weeks.
In a harshly worded statement released Monday, the 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 “air strikes on civilian targets, uncoordinated house searches and illegal detention of Afghan civilians.”
The statement 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.
The government’s decision follows a weekend clash and airstrikes in western Afghanistan in which Afghan officials say about 90 civilians, including women and children, were killed.
U.S.-led coalition troops, which were supporting Afghan commandos in the raid, said they believe 25 militants, including a Taliban commander, and five civilians were killed during the Friday raid in the village of Azizabad in Herat province. The U.S. coalition originally said the battle left 30 militants dead.
White House spokesman Tony Fratto told reporters Monday that foreign forces in Afghanistan “take every precaution to try to avoid innocent civilian casualties.” Asked about Karzai’s concerns about civilian casualties, Fratto said an investigation is under way. He said the U.S. Defense Department believes “it was a good strike.”
But Afghan officials appear 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 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.