Afghan president says US airstrike was 'one-sided' decision, warns bilateral pact at risk

Heidi Vogt,Rahim Faiez, The Associated Press
June 9, 2012

KABUL - Afghanistan's president said Saturday that the United States failed to consult Afghan forces when calling in an airstrike this week that killed 18 civilians, and warned that his government in the future will consider any such actions as violating the country's pact with Washington.

Presidential spokesman Aimal Faizi said that President Hamid Karzai met with investigators earlier in the day and concluded that U.S. troops had called in Wednesday's strike without co-ordinating with Afghan units.

The incident occurred during a nighttime raid on militants taking cover in a village. These raids are a major irritant in Afghan President Hamid Karzai's relationship with the international military coalition. Karzai says the raids put civilians at risk of injury or death. Military officials say such operations are key to capturing and killing Taliban leaders.

The U.S. and Afghanistan signed an agreement in April that put the Afghan government in charge of such operations — a move designed to resolve some of the longstanding tensions.

But when villagers in Logar province displayed the bodies of 18 civilians killed in a U.S. airstrike on Wednesday, Karzai quickly called on the international coalition to explain itself. Faizi said that the investigators told the president that Afghan forces had surrounded the house in question but that the U.S. troops decided not to wait for them to try to flush out the militants and called in aircraft instead. They only discovered later that there had also been women, children and old men inside.

"This airstrike was a one-sided decision, and not co-ordinated with Afghan security forces," Faizi said. He said that Karzai and his advisers decided after hearing the investigators' report that they would consider such actions in the future as a breach of the special operations pact.

"The continuation of uncoordinated operations and civilian casualties are against the recent decisions made between Afghanistan and the United States," Faizi said.

The U.S. commander in Afghanistan apologized for the civilian deaths on Friday and a NATO investigation ruled that the coalition forces were responsible for the unintended deaths of civilians. However, NATO officials have not said that they acted against the special operations agreement.

NATO forces officials in Afghanistan could not immediately be reached for comment. A U.S. spokesman declined to comment on whether the pact on special operations had been violated in the Logar incident.