AntiWar.com & The Christian Science Monitor &The National – 2011-06-01 01:01:52
NATO Spurns Karzai Call to Stop Attacking Civilian Homes
Karzai Warns NATO Risks Being Viewed as ‘Occupying Force’< big>
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(May 31, 2011) — Afghan President Hamid Karzai has once again delivered a warning to NATO in the wake of deadly NATO air strikes over the weekend, cautioning that the alliance must stop bombing civilian homes in Afghanistan.
NATO, for its part, spurned the demand, saying that attacking Afghan homes was â€œnecessaryâ€ and would continue going forward. They also claimed that the Afghan government has no right under the UN mandate for Afghanistan to forbid attacks on civilian targets.
Former Afghan General Helauddin Helal concurred with this, saying it was â€œnot realisticâ€ for Karzai to demand the end such attacks, saying that the UN mandate gave the troops the right to â€œconduct any kind of attack.â€
Karzai warned that the continuation of such attacks would put NATO at the risk of being â€œviewed as an occupying force.â€ This is perhaps the least of NATOâ€™s concerns, particularly a decade into the occupation of Afghanistan, but points to a growing discontent at the way they carry on this occupation.
Afghan President Karzai Demands NATO Stop Airstrikes on Homes
Tom A. Peter / Christian Science Monitor
The NATO air campaign has played a critical role in the battle against the Taliban, but airstrikes that also kill civilians are further eroding support for the war.
KABUL, Afghanistan (May 31, 2011) — After giving NATO forces their â€œlast warningâ€ to stop civilian casualties, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has upped the stakes by demanding that international forces stop airstrikes on Afghan houses.
â€œIf they donâ€™t stop airstrikes on Afghan homes, their presence in Afghanistan will be considered as an occupying force and against the will of the Afghan people,â€ Mr. Karzai told reporters. â€œSuch attacks will no longer be allowed.â€
The Afghan president has threatened unspecified action if the bombings continue. But strong pronouncements such as this one have become common for the president, and he has yet to act on any of his threats. Meanwhile, it seems unlikely that NATO forces will stop their air war as a result of Karzaiâ€™s demand.
â€œAir support is very important for the foreign forces in Afghanistan,â€ says Babrak Shinwary, a military expert and former member of parliament from Nagarhar Province. â€œAfghanistan is a mountainous country and soldiers cannot arrive quickly to remote area so thatâ€™s why theyâ€™re relying on bombing.â€
NATO air support has played a critical role in helping Afghan forces fight the Taliban in remote areas of the country like Nuristan Province, says Mr. Shinwary. He adds that given the constraints posed by rugged terrain, it would have been unrealistic for NATO to send ground forces to offer immediate help to the besieged province that is struggling to fight off the Taliban.
Karzaiâ€™s demand comes after an attack in Helmand killed nine people, mostly women and children. There has been mounting anger over civilian causalities here, along with a growing antiforeigner sentiment, which came to the fore during massive Quran burning protests in April.
In response to Karzaiâ€™s comments, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force has emphasized its continued efforts to consult with Afghan officials to ensure that operations have the approval of high-level Afghan intelligence and military officials.
â€œThis year our efforts have reduced further loss of innocent civilian life in the conduct of Afghan and the international security assistance force ISAF operations, although we continue to do everything we can to reduce them further,â€ says Rear Admiral Vic Beck, International Security Assistance Forceâ€™s director of public affairs. â€œGen. [David] Petraeus has repeatedly noted that every liberation force has to be very conscious that it can, over time, become seen as an occupation force. He has long stated that extending the â€˜half-lifeâ€™ of the period during which an outside force is regarded positively by its partners and the people is very important.â€
If NATO heeds Karzai’s demand and stops bombing houses, such an action could severely weaken its efforts. Without official bases, insurgents tend to operate in homes and other civilian buildings. International forces would effectively be limited to using their air power to only attack insurgents in open areas.
â€œIn Afghanistan, the NATO forces need to have night raids and bombings, but they need to be careful,â€ says Usteth Masood, a political expert and professor Kabul University.
Karzai has also proven to have an erratic track record when it comes to international relations, adds Mr. Masood. Aside from oscillating between support and condemnation of US and NATO forces here, heâ€™s also taken a similar line with Pakistan, sometimes condemning it for harboring terrorists and other times calling it a close friend and ally.
Karzai Warns NATO: ‘Stop Bombing Homes or Be Branded an Occupying Force’
Erin Cunningham / The National
KABUL (June 1, 2011) — Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, yesterday ordered NATO to halt airstrikes on Afghan homes or risk being branded occupiers.
“If it continues, then their presence will change from a war against terrorism to an occupying force,” Mr Karzai said.
“Afghan history is witness to how the Afghans deal with occupying forces. Bombing Afghan houses is banned.”
A NATO spokeswoman in Brussels said attacks on homes in Afghanistan were necessary and would continue in co-operation with Afghan security forces.
Despite Mr Karzai’s threat of unilateral action against NATO forces if airstrikes continue, military analysts said NATO troops were in Afghanistan under a United Nations mandate, which does not give the Afghan government authority to outlaw strikes.
NATO says airstrikes are a key weapon against Taliban insurgents. “Under the UN mandate, troops have the right to do their job and conduct any kind of attack, as long as the killing of civilians is not deliberate,” the former Afghan general and military analyst Helaluddin Helal said.
“It is not realistic for Karzai to make this request.”
The words were Mr Karzai’s harshest for the US-led foreign forces that have operated in Afghanistan since toppling the Taliban government in 2001. They come on the heels of a string of incidents in which residents, Afghan officials and Mr Karzai have all accused NATO forces of killing scores of civilians in errant airstrikes.
The most recent was on Saturday night in the Nowzad district of the volatile Helmand province, where provincial officials say two women and 12 children were killed in a NATO strike on two homes.
NATO says the strike killed nine civilians, and was in response to a Taliban insurgent attack on a nearby base that killed a US Marine.
On Sunday Mr Karzai gave his “last warning” on airstrikes by NATO forces.
The governor of the remote Nuristan province said this month that dozens of civilians and Afghan policemen had been killed in a NATO airstrike in Doab district. Reports had said the district, in a mountainous area on the Pakistan border, had been overrun by the Taliban.
NATO said it was dispatching a team to investigate the bombing.
A NATO spokeswoman, Major Sunset Belinksy, said yesterday: “Coalition forces constantly strive to reduce the chance of civilian casualties and damage to structure. But when the insurgents use civilians as a shield and put our forces in a position where their only option is to use airstrikes, then they will take that option.”
About 150,000 foreign troops, most of them American, are in Afghanistan helping the government to fight a Taliban insurgency.
It is difficult to conceive now, but in 2002, following the US invasion of Afghanistan the previous year, the Taliban were largely defeated and al Qa’eda bereft of its ability to stage attacks from Afghan soil.
But the decade-long foreign military presence and increasing numbers of civilian casualties are turning many Afghans against the war. “The foreigners killed my cousin in an airstrike, and they never came to investigate or ask us any questions,” said Taza Gul, a resident of Sarobi district in Kabul province.
He says his cousin, who worked for the Afghan government at district level, was killed in an airstrike in 2008. “We don’t believe they care, they do whatever they want.”
NATO troops are supposed to transfer security responsibilities to Afghan army and police in seven key areas of Afghanistan from next month, as part of a force reduction in which all US and foreign combat troops will withdraw by 2014.
But Mr Helal says Afghan forces will still be incapable of maintaining air support for ground troops.
“The Afghan air force is particularly weak right now, and our forces still cannot go to an area to independently conduct an operation,” he said. “We need air support from the US and from NATO.”
According to the UN, civilian deaths are on the rise in Afghanistan, up by 15 per cent from 2009 to 2010 as NATO boosts troop levels to uproot Taliban fighters in key provinces.
Taliban insurgents and other anti-government groups are responsible for most civilian deaths, however, causing 75 per cent of casualties in 2010, the UN says. NATO was responsible for 16 per cent of civilian deaths in 2010, and 9 per cent could not be attributed to any party.
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