Afghan President Hamid Karzai accused the United States of failing to abide by a high moral "standard" as it carries out military operations in his country, while a top security official said the United States will not meet Karzai's demand to end air strikes.
National Security Adviser James Jones said such a concession would be "imprudent."
In separate interviews on the Sunday morning news shows, Karzai and Jones aired lingering tensions between the United States and Afghanistan -- allies in the fight against extremists -- despite a string of photo ops and work sessions with officials from both countries this past week. Karzai, along with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, met with President Obama Wednesday in Washington.
The Afghan president, on NBC's "Meet the Press," warned about the danger of failing to address an issue that is quickly becoming a wedge -- civilian casualties. He said the Afghan public still believes in the cause of defeating the Taliban and Al Qaeda but that "there is a limit to all of that" when civilians are being killed.
"Civilian casualties are undermining support in the Afghan people for the war on terrorism. ... How can you expect the people who keep losing their children to remain friendly?" Karzai said. "We have to be morally on a much higher platform in order for us to win the war on terrorism."
He added: "The U.S. has not met that standard in Afghanistan."
Tensions rose between the U.S. and Afghan governments following a battle last Monday in the western province of Farah. Afghan officials have estimated as many as 130 civilians were killed in the fighting, which included American air strikes. But the U.S. disputes those figures, while acknowledging that civilians died in the fighting.
The U.S. coalition over the weekend blamed Taliban militants for the deaths, accusing Taliban fighters of using Afghan villagers as human shields.
Though U.S. officials say U.S. forces were responding to a call for help from Afghan forces, Karzai suggested in the interview Sunday that the U.S. is waging its war in the wrong places.
"Our villages are not where the terrorists are. ... The war on terrorism is not in the Afghan villages, not in the Afghan homes. Respect that," he said.
U.S. military officials have expressed regret for the civilian deaths, but continue to defend the way they are conducting the war.
Jones, speaking on ABC's "This Week," said the United States would not end air strikes in Afghanistan even though they are blamed in the deaths of hundreds of civilians during the war.
He refused to rule out any action because "we can't fight with one hand tied behind our back."
Jones said the U.S. would continue to make military decisions based on the best intelligence available.
"Certainly to tie the hands of our commanders and say we're not going to conduct air strikes, it would be imprudent," Jones said.
Asked if Karzai understand that, Jones said he understands "we have to have the full complement of our offensive military power when we need it."
Jones acknowledged the difficulty facing U.S. troops who are fighting the Taliban, which have no compunction about using civilians as human shields. "We have to be careful to make sure that we don't unnecessarily wound or kill innocent civilians," Jones said, adding that the U.S. would "redouble" its efforts to that end.
Gen. David Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command, also blamed the Taliban for the extent of the civilian casualties last week. In an interview with "FOX News Sunday," Petraeus said the Taliban appear to have forced civilians to stay in the houses from where they were firing on U.S. forces.
He acknowledged civilians were killed as a result of what he called a "very significant firefight."
But he pledged a "very thorough investigation" to uncover more details.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Sunday, May 10, 2009
Karzai Warns Civilian Casualties Driving Wedge Between U.S., Afghanistan
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