tampabay.com

Afghan president says civilian deaths must stop

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published May 3, 2007


KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghans can no longer accept or understand civilian deaths from international military operations, President Hamid Karzai said Wednesday after officials said 51 villagers were killed during a U.S.-led offensive against the Taliban in western Afghanistan.

Despite claims that women and children were among the dead, the U.S. military maintained it had no reports of civilian casualties.

Karzai met with NATO, U.S. and European Union officials, telling them that "civilian deaths and arbitrary decisions to search people's houses have reached an unacceptable level, and Afghans cannot put up with it any longer, " according to a statement from his office.

During an earlier news conference, Karzai said Afghans had reached their limit after the years of conflict since the Taliban's ouster in late 2001.

"The intention is very good in these operations to fight terrorism. Sometimes mistakes have been made as well, but five years on, it is very difficult for us to continue to accept civilian casualties, " Karzai said.

"We can no longer accept civilian casualties the way they occur, " he added. "It is not understandable anymore."

The U.S.-led coalition said the military operation in western Herat province was conducted from Friday to Sunday by U.S. and Afghan troops in the Zerkoh Valley and killed 136 suspected Taliban militants - the deadliest fighting in Afghanistan since January.

The bloodshed sparked angry anti-U.S. protests earlier this week by villagers. Mohammad Homayoun Azizi, chief of Herat's provincial council, said two council members who visited the area along with Afghan police and intelligence officers reported that 51 civilians were killed.

Osman Kalali, a lawmaker who was part of the investigative delegation, said they did not see any Taliban or other militants among the dead. "The casualties were women, children, this kind of people, " he said.

"We do everything we can to prevent civilian casualties in our operations, and we have no reports of civilian casualties in that operation" in Herat, said a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, Maj. Chris Belcher.