Afghan lives are not cheap, Karzai tells NATO


Kabul : Afghan President Hamid Karzai lashed out strongly Saturday at the NATO forces over mounting civilian casualties caused in "careless operations" by international forces in his country, saying "Afghan lives are not cheap."

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Karzai, who unexpectedly called reporters to his fortified presidential palace, also warned if NATO forces did not coordinate with the Afghan government in their operations, they would face defeat in the war against terrorism in Afghanistan.

"The Afghan people suffered and tolerated a lot and we are ready to suffer and tolerate," Karzai said, adding "but the condition is that the international community in the fight against terrorism should carry out their activities in accordance to the plan by the Afghan government".

"If that doesn't happen this struggle will be in danger, Afghanistan will be alive, will be successful, but the world will fail here," Karzai told reporters angrily.

"We want coordination, cooperation but unfortunately the coordination and cooperation that we wanted could not be gained and the consequence of that are civilian casualties," he said.

Karzai added: "The civilian casualty is intolerable, it is absolutely intolerable, either this cooperation and coordination is created and applied or Afghanistan will take its decision in this regard."

Karzai had expressed his anger and impatience over civilian deaths many times in the past but his comments Saturday amounted to his strongest outburst yet against the foreign troops more than five years since the fall of the Taliban regime.

He was speaking just two days after 25 civilians, including women and children, were killed in a NATO airstrike in Gerishk district of southern Helmand province and during which 20 insurgents were also killed.

Referring to the Helmand incident, Karzai said, according to his information, NATO forces had come under attack in Gerishk district at around sunset.

"And then the NATO forces went and bombed the village at around 10.00 in the evening. The question is why? First of all it's a disproportionate use of force. And then there is serious lack of coordination with the Afghan government," he said.

Karzai also recounted that another 52 civilians were killed in NATO operation in Uruzgan province on Monday, while three school children were killed by US forces in eastern Afghanistan last week.

"The extreme use of force, the disproportionate use of force to a situation and the lack of coordination with the Afghan government has caused these casualties," he said. "You don't fight a terrorist by firing field gun 37 km away into a target. That is definitely, surely bound to cause civilian casualties. You don't hit a few terrorists with field guns," Karzai added.

"We want to cooperate with the international community. We are thankful for their help to Afghanistan. But that does not mean that Afghan lives have no value. Afghan lives are not cheap. And they should not be treated as such," Karzai, whose tone grew increasingly angrier and whose face was flushed, said.

Karzai, whose government is facing an escalating insurgency since the beginning of spring, said that the solution for his country's dilemma is to strengthen Afghan national forces.

NATO forces "have to accept our recommendation which they have not been accepting for the past many years they have to coordinate with us, they have to strengthen the Afghan national army further, they have to help us build a police force that is raised from the community that is in the community", he said.

"They cannot bring their standards from their countries in the west and apply it in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is a different country, it has different value systems, it has a different community structure, from now on they have to work the way we ask them to work."

The civilian deaths by international forces have sparked widespread condemnation both by national and international organization and rights advocates.

"If NATO wants to be successful in the fight against terrorism and if they want Afghanistan to be peaceful, they should coordinate their operation with Afghan government. Whether it is small operation or big one, this is the condition of Afghan government and if they want to be successful they should comply with our condition," Karzai added.

Some 37,000 NATO-led troops are fighting the Taliban insurgents while around 14,000 US troops independently carrying out anti-terrorist operation in the country.