Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai. (Reuters/Omar Sobhani)
By AMIR SHAH | AP
Published: Mar 16, 2012 19:01 Updated: Mar 16, 2012 19:02
KABUL, Afghanistan: Warning he’s at the “end of the rope” over civilian casualties, Afghanistan’s president angrily accused the US on Friday of not sharing information about how an American soldier allegedly shot and killed 16 Afghans in two villages.
The incident has reverberated through the already complicated relations between the US and Afghanistan, endangering talks over a long-term relationship after most US and NATO combat troops withdraw by the end of 2014.
In an emotional meeting with relatives of the shooting victims, Karzai said the villagers’ accounts of the massacre were widely different from the scenario depicted by US military officials. The relatives and villagers insisted that it was impossible for one gunmen to kill nine children, four men and three women in three houses of two villages near a US combat outpost in southern Afghanistan.
Karzai pointed to one of the villagers from Panjwai district of Kandahar province and said:
“In his family, in four rooms people were killed — children and women were killed — and then they were all brought together in one room and then set on fire. That, one man cannot do.”
Karzai said the delegation he sent to Kandahar province to investigate the shootings did not receive the expected cooperation from the United States. He said many questions remained about what occurred, and he would be raising the questions with the US military “very loudly.”
The US military had no comment on Karzai’s remarks.
The Afghan leader stressed that he wants a good relationship with the international community, but that it was becoming increasingly difficult in light of airstrikes that miss their targets, leaving civilians dead and raising opposition to night operations where troops raid homes looking for insurgents.
“This has been going on for too long,” he said at the presidential palace. “You have heard me before. It is by all means the end of the rope here. … This form of activity, this behavior cannot be tolerated. It is past, past, past the time.”
NATO has said that night operations have been instrumental in rounding up midlevel commanders and Taleban bomb makers. The coalition says more than 90 percent of night operations are done alongside Afghan forces and that more than 85 percent are conducted without any shots fired.
The United Nations has reported that last year was the deadliest on record for civilians in the Afghan war, with 3,021 killed as insurgents ratcheted up violence with suicide attacks and roadside bombs.
The UN attributed 77 percent of the deaths to insurgent attacks and 14 percent to actions by international and Afghan troops. Nine percent of cases were classified as having an unknown cause.
On Thursday, Karzai demanded that international forces pull out of rural areas because the fight was not in the villages.
Afghan officials said Karzai made his request to pull back from the villages now during a meeting on Thursday with US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
US officials said, however, that he did not tell Panetta that it should happen immediately.
Karzai said President Barack Obama called him Friday morning to ask him about the demand to withdraw from villages.
“Yesterday, I said clearly that the Americans should leave our villages,” Karzai said. “This morning, Obama called regarding this issue. He asked, ‘Did you announce this?’ I said, “Yes, I announced it.’“
The soldier has not been identified, but officials have said the 38-year-old is based in Washington state. He was transferred late Wednesday to a facility in Kuwait and then left there Friday, according to the Kuwaiti state news agency and a senior US defense official.
The soldier was expected to be flown to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, the defense official said. Leavenworth is the military’s only maximum-security prison.
Officials say that transfer was necessary because there was no appropriate detention facility to hold him in Afghanistan.
Dealing another blow to the war effort, the Taleban on Thursday said they were calling off the talks, charging that the US had failed to follow through on its promises and made new demands. The militant group also said the US falsely claimed that it had entered into multilateral negotiations that included the Afghan government.
Karzai said Friday that the Taleban should be talking directly with his government.
The moves represent new setbacks to America’s strategy for ending the 10-year-old war at a time when support at home for the conflict is plummeting.
Part of the US exit strategy is to transfer authority gradually to Afghan forces. Another tack is to pull the Taleban into political discussions with the Afghan government, though it’s unclear whether there has been any progress since January.