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Afghan leader blasts US over probe into shootings

By Deb Riechmann

Associated Press

Published: Friday, March 16 2012 12:00 p.m. MDT

Abdul Samad, center, eleven of whose family members were killed by a US soldier on Sunday in Panjwai in Kandahar province after a meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, unseen, at the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, March 16, 2012. Afghan President Hamid Karzai lashed out at the United States on Friday, saying he is at the "the end of the rope" because of the lack of U.S. cooperation into a probe of a killing spree allegedly carried out by an American soldier.

Ahmad Jamshid, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

KABUL, Afghanistan — Warning he's at the "end of the rope" over civilian casualties, Afghanistan's president angrily accused the U.S. on Friday of not sharing information about how an American soldier allegedly shot and killed 16 Afghans in two villages.

The incident has reverberated through the already complicated relations between the U.S. and Afghanistan, endangering talks over a long-term relationship after most U.S. and NATO combat troops withdraw by the end of 2014.

In an emotional meeting with relatives of the shooting victims, Karzai said the villagers' accounts of the massacre were widely different from the scenario depicted by U.S. military officials. The relatives and villagers insisted that it was impossible for one gunmen to kill nine children, four men and three women in three houses of two villages near a U.S. combat outpost in southern Afghanistan.

Karzai pointed to one of the villagers from Panjwai district of Kandahar province and said:

"In his family, in four rooms people were killed — children and women were killed — and then they were all brought together in one room and then set on fire. That, one man cannot do."

Karzai said the delegation he sent to Kandahar province to investigate the shootings did not receive the expected cooperation from the United States. He said many questions remained about what occurred, and he would be raising the questions with the U.S. military "very loudly."

The U.S. military had no comment on Karzai's remarks.

The Afghan leader stressed that he wants a good relationship with the international community, but that it was becoming increasingly difficult in light of airstrikes that miss their targets, leaving civilians dead and raising opposition to night operations where troops raid homes looking for insurgents.

"This has been going on for too long," he said at the presidential palace. "You have heard me before. It is by all means the end of the rope here. ... This form of activity, this behavior cannot be tolerated. It is past, past, past the time."

NATO has said that night operations have been instrumental in rounding up midlevel commanders and Taliban bomb makers. The coalition says more than 90 percent of night operations are done alongside Afghan forces and that more than 85 percent are conducted without any shots fired.

The United Nations has reported that last year was the deadliest on record for civilians in the Afghan war, with 3,021 killed as insurgents ratcheted up violence with suicide attacks and roadside bombs.

The U.N. attributed 77 percent of the deaths to insurgent attacks and 14 percent to actions by international and Afghan troops. Nine percent of cases were classified as having an unknown cause.

On Thursday, Karzai demanded that international forces pull out of rural areas because the fight was not in the villages.

Afghan officials said Karzai made his request to immediately pull back from the villages during a meeting on Thursday with U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

U.S. officials said, however, that he did not tell Panetta that it should happen immediately.

Karzai said his demand for a withdrawal from villages was a topic of a phone call he received Friday morning from President Barack Obama.

"Yesterday, I said clearly that the Americans should leave our villages," Karzai said. "This morning, Obama called regarding this issue. He asked, 'Did you announce this?' I said, "Yes, I announced it.'"

Karzai's office and the White House issued statements recounting the phone call.

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