Fisnik Abrashi / Associated Press – 2008-08-28 22:45:25
KABUL, Afghanistan (August 27, 2008) — In a stark warning to US forces, the Afghan government said Tuesday that it will try to regulate the presence of US troops and their use of air strikes, and the United Nations announced there is “convincing evidence” that an American-led operation killed 90 civilians.
The UN team of investigators relied solely on villagers’ statements in alleging the US-led operation in the western province of Herat killed 60 children and 30 adults on Friday. The US military stood by its account, that 25 militants and five civilians were killed in the operation.
“I don’t have any information that would suggest that our military commanders in Afghanistan don’t believe, still, that this was a legitimate strike on a Taliban target,” Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman said in Washington.
The UN allegation comes a day after President Hamid Karzai’s government said it will try to put more controls on the way American and NATO troops operate, a response to a series of air strikes and other operations this summer that have caused the deaths of scores of civilians.
Afghanistan’s Council of Ministers ordered the ministries of defense and foreign affairs to open negotiations with the United States and NATO over air strikes, house searches and the detentions of Afghan civilians. It also called for a “status of force” agreement to regulate the troops’ presence.
Afghanistan’s effort to rein in foreign forces is similar to steps taken by the Iraqi government, which has demanded a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops and greater control of US operations until their departure.
The United Nations’ allegation of such a large number of civilian deaths could set the United States, United Nations and the Afghan government on a collision course over the use of military force in Afghan villages, where international troops battle Taliban and al Qaeda militants daily.
Russia circulated a draft Security Council press statement on Tuesday expressing serious concern about the numerous civilian casualties reportedly caused by the air strike and saying member nations “strongly deplore the fact that this is not the first incident of this kind.”
Press statements must be approved by all 15 Security Council members, and Western diplomats said there was no chance the Russian draft would be adopted.
A recent spate of civilian deaths has added fuel to long-simmering public anger surrounding the issue. In the first week of July, 69 Afghan civilians were killed in two separate operations in eastern Afghanistan, including 47 people killed in Nangarhar province while they were walking to a wedding party, Afghan officials say.
Afghan officials say that scores of civilians – between 76 and 90 – were killed in the Herat operation. The head of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, Ahmad Nader Nadery, has confirmed reports that a memorial ceremony was being held for a militia commander allied with the Afghan police and that several relatives and friends from outside the area were staying overnight in the village at the time.
Civilian casualties have long been a major source of friction between Karzai and his Western backers. Afghan officials say civilian deaths create a rift between the government and the people that Taliban and other anti-government forces use to turn villagers away from the government.
In addition, Afghans targeted in US raids have complained for years of being pursued based solely on information provided by other Afghans who sometimes are business rivals, neighbors with a vendetta or simply people interested in reward money for anti-government militants.
According to an Associated Press tally, 705 civilians have been killed this year: 536 by militants, and 158 by international forces; 11 civilians have died in cross fire. The numbers do not include figures from the Herat battle and probably do not account for all civilian deaths this year.
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