January 27, 2009

Afghan civilian deaths fuel extremism

POLITICS - Today U.S. commanders traveled to a poor Afghan village and distributed $40,000 to relatives of 15 people killed in an American raid. The Americans also apologized for any civilians killed in the operation. The U.S. military regularly makes payments to Afghan relatives of those killed in operations, but the payments are rarely publicized.

In the United States, Defence Secretary Robert Gates told Congress that "we are lost" unless the United States can find a way not to kill so many civilians in the pursuit of militants in Afghanistan.

The issue of civilian deaths is increasingly sensitive in Afghanistan, with President Hamid Karzai accusing the U.S. military of killing civilians in three separate cases over the last month. Karzai has repeatedly warned the USA and NATO to guard against killing civilians, saying such deaths undermine his government and the international mission.

Karzai met Tuesday in the capital with relatives of some of those killed. He told the villagers he has given the USA and NATO one month to respond to a draft agreement that calls for increased Afghan participation in military operations.

Karzai said if he does not receive a USA or NATO response within that time, he would ask Afghans what he should do about international military operations, perhaps even demanding that the USA pull out of Afghanistan.

Meanwhile he USA is doubling its troop presence in Afghanistan this year to take on the Taliban militia; the Taliban and other militants still control southern Afghanistan. Last year, 151 American troops died in Afghanistan, the most in any year since the United States invaded the Taliban-ruled country in late 2001 for sheltering Osama bin Laden.

The issue of civilian casualties appears to be putting a severe strain on the U.S.-Afghan relationship. Every time a civilian is accidentally killed more people join the Taliban seeking revenge or become critical of Karzai's government.

Between 2002 and 2008 approx. 16,000 Afghan civilians have been killed by either the USA or the Taliban. 4,000 of that number died in the first 3 months of the conflict during US bombing raids.

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