President Hamid Karzai on Wednesday accused the United States of killing seven children and a woman in an airstrike in central Afghanistan — an incident set to further damage frayed ties between the two allies.
Relations between Washington and Kabul have been rocky for years, and negotiations over an agreement that would allow some US troops to remain in the country after this year have broken down into a long-running public dispute.
Karzai made a surprise decision not to sign the bilateral security agreement (BSA) late last year despite having vowed to do so, leading to the threat of a complete withdrawal of US-led NATO troops by the end of 2014.
“As a result of bombardment by American forces last night, which was conducted… in Siahgird district of Parwan province, one woman and seven children were martyred and one civilian injured,” a statement from his office said.
“The Afghan government has been asking for a complete end to operations in Afghan villages for years, but American forces acting against all mutual agreements and guarantees… have once again bombarded a residential area and killed civilians.”
Civilian casualties have been one of the most sensitive issues of the 13-year military intervention in Afghanistan, and Karzai has often used accidental shootings and misguided airstrikes to berate foreign countries and stir public anger.
NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), earlier said it was “aware of reports that at least two civilians were inadvertently killed today during an Afghan-led joint operation in Ghorband (Siahgird) District”.
“An enemy force engaged Afghan and coalition forces from several compounds,” it said. “Afghan and coalition forces returned fire and required defensive air support to suppress the enemy fire.”
ISAF added that one of its soldiers was killed in the fighting, as well as at least 10 insurgents.
Siahgird district, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) north of Kabul, is on the main road from the capital to Bamiyan. The route was considered safe, but the region has become increasingly violent.
The BSA would see several thousand US troops remain in Afghanistan to provide training in the battle against Taliban insurgents after the NATO combat mission ends in December.
Signing the agreement is also a precondition for the delivery of billions of dollars in Western aid for Afghanistan, which will hold an election to choose Karzai’s successor in April.
Afghanistan’s army and police have developed rapidly in the past four years, but the country risks slipping into turmoil without foreign military assistance if Islamist militias and warlords vie for power.