joi, 5 iulie 2007

KABUL, Afghanistan-- Afghan President Hamid Karzai, upset over the deaths of civilians caught in the middle of fighting between coalition troops and militant fighters, had harsh words for NATO forces Saturday.

Karzai's comments came as dozens of militants were reportedly killed in southern and eastern Afghanistan in the latest clashes with U.S.-led foreign troops and Afghan forces.

"The disproportionate use of force to a situation and the lack of coordination with the Afghan government is causing these casualties," Karzai said.

"You don't fight a terrorist by firing a field gun 30-some kilometers away into a target. That is definitely surely bound to cause civilian casualties."

Karzai pointed to an operation Thursday night near the town of Gereshk in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province during which, according to local estimates, more than two dozen civilians were killed as NATO forces battled suspected Taliban militants in a village.

"The incident of the day before yesterday in Gereshk, based on the information that I have from the local people, occurred when NATO forces came under fire in a village at around sunset and then the NATO forces went and bombed the village at around 10 p.m.," he said. "The question is why?"

A NATO official on Friday said it was investigating the claims of civilian casualties but insisted any blame would lie with "irresponsible" militants for launching attacks in the first place.

An Afghan Interior Ministry official told CNN the government is still working to count the number of civilians killed in the past week.

The U.S. military said while there may have been casualties at Gereshk, it was still investigating. It did confirm that seven children died Sunday when coalition aircraft bombed a building in eastern Afghanistan where al Qaeda fighters were believed gathered.

President Karzai, who is reliant on Western support to secure his powerbase in still volatile Afghanistan, said NATO forces must start listening to his government's recommendations.

"They have to coordinate with us," he said. "They have to strengthen the Afghan National Army further. They have to help us build a police force that is raised from the community, that is in the community.

"They cannot bring standards from their countries in the West and try to apply it in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is a different country. It has different values systems. It has a different community structure. From now onward, they have to work the way we ask them to work in here. That's the line."

Karzai's remarks reflect growing unease among Afghans at the rising civilian death toll as foreign troops continue efforts to rid the country of the hardline Taliban militia and its al Qaeda allies, which began after the September 11 attacks on the United States.

In the latest clashes in southern Afghanistan, NATO said militants attacked Afghan and alliance troops late Friday in the Bermel district of Paktika province, according to The Associated Press.

NATO and U.S.-led forces returned fire, killing about 60 fighters, an alliance statement said.

"These individuals clearly had weapons and used them against our aircraft as well as shooting rockets against our positions ... This required their removal from the battle-space," Col. Martin P. Schweitzer, a U.S. commander, said in a statement, according to AP.
Child reportedly fitted with suicide vest

A young boy who walked up to an Afghan soldier and asked if the soldier could help remove the explosives-laden vest he was wearing described the suicide plot he was asked to participate in to military officials and villagers Saturday.

The boy, about 6, attended a meeting in Khowst of Afghan regional leaders and military representatives, who discussed the progress of NATO-Afghan operations to rout the Taliban and prevent terrorists from crossing the border into Afghanistan from Pakistan.

"We have seen the Taliban in recent weeks shave their beards and even wear women's clothing in an attempt to avoid detection by security forces," said Army Capt. Michael Cormier, commander of Alpha Company 2/508th Parachute Infantry Regiment.

"In the past, they have murdered men for simply shaving or having long hair," he said in a written statement from the International Security Assistance Force.

He said recent attacks by the Taliban show how desperate its members are becoming, Cormier said.

"They placed explosives on a 6-year-old boy and told him to walk up to the Afghan Police or Army and push the button. Fortunately the boy did not understand, and asked patrolling officers why he had this vest on.

"In another incident, they placed explosives in a Sunni mosque used by local workers and contractors. Do these actions sound like the actions of true Muslims? Not to me," Cormier said.

The child wasn't injured in the incident, which occurred several weeks ago, and it was unclear whether those who put the vest on him and sent him toward a checkpoint were captured. His brother also was at the meeting.

The sub-governor of the town of Andar brought the boys to the session so the media and others could hear firsthand the account of his ordeal.

The ISAF said Saturday two children have been killed and nine wounded in the last 72 hours in Taliban attacks in eastern Afghanistan.

One Coalition Forces soldier died Saturday during combat operations near Langar Village in Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan. The nationality of the soldier was not released. Coalition forces came under small-arms and rocket-propelled grenade fire around 5:45 a.m. and returned fire. Two soldiers were wounded and are receiving medical care at a coalition treatment facility.

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