ASADABAD, Afghanistan (AFP) – An emotional Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Saturday told international troops to “stop their operations in our land”, his strongest remarks yet over mistaken killings of civilians.
Karzai’s comments came after a week in which a relative of his was killed in a raid by foreign forces and he rejected an apology by the US commander of troops General David Petraeus for the deaths of nine children in a NATO strike.
“I would like to ask NATO and the US with honour and humbleness and not with arrogance to stop their operations in our land,” Karzai said in Pashto as he visited the dead children’s relatives in Kunar province, eastern Afghanistan.
“We are very tolerant people but now our tolerance has run out.”
In an apparent reference to neighbouring Pakistan, where insurgents have hideouts in lawless border regions, Western-backed Karzai said international forces “should go and fight this war where we have showed them (it is)”.
“This war is not in our land,” Karzai added.
Karzai’s spokesman Waheed Omer said the president’s remarks had been urging an end to civilian casualties in international operations.
“The president, on behalf of the Afghan people, renewed his call on NATO to stop operations that bring about unnecessary losses to the Afghan people,” Omer said.
“We have always maintained that the war on terror cannot be fought in the towns and villages of Afghanistan.”
During his visit to Kunar, Karzai also met relatives of those caught up in another incident in the province in which Afghan officials say 65 people died but which ISAF says left nine people injured.
The Afghan president wept as he held a young child who he said had her leg amputated following the latter attack, an AFP reporter said.
The family of every person killed who attended was given 100,000 Afghanis ($2,300), while those injured received half that amount from the head of an official delegation investigating civilian casualties, the reporter added.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) did not respond to Karzai’s comments.
However, in a tactical directive issued last year, Petraeus called on forces to step up their efforts to minimise civilian casualties, adding: “Every Afghan civilian death diminishes our cause.”
The latest Kunar incident, which occurred this month as the nine children gathered firewood, forced the ever-sensitive issue of civilian casualties caused by international troops back to the top of the political agenda.
On Sunday, Karzai angrily rejected a public apology from Petraeus, the US commander of foreign troops, over the deaths.
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates also made a personal apology to Karzai during a visit to Afghanistan Monday.
Then on Thursday, it emerged that Karzai’s father’s cousin had been shot dead near his home in the family’s village in Kandahar province, southern Afghanistan.
A UN report Wednesday revealed that the deaths of Afghan civilians in the war had increased 15 percent to a record high last year, adding that insurgents were responsible for three-quarters of the killings.
The report recorded 2,777 civilian deaths last year, underscoring the level of violence in the country as foreign troops prepare to start handing control of security to Afghan forces in some areas from July.
Afghan security forces are due to take responsibility for security across the country by 2014, allowing international combat forces to withdraw.
There are currently around 140,000 international troops serving in Afghanistan, around two-thirds of them from the United States.