5 years, 6 months ago
Hamid Karzai has raised the ante in the campaign in Afghanistan.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai demanded Tuesday that the U.S.-led coalition stop all airstrikes on Afghan homes, drawing his government closer than ever to direct opposition to the American presence here.
The comments could complicate President Obama’s looming decision on how quickly to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Even for Western officials accustomed to Karzai’s rebukes, his latest remarks were cause for deep concern, because they went further than before in calling for radical change in how NATO fights its war.
Tuesday’s demand followed his earlier insistence that foreign forces end night raids, stop unilateral operations, and stay off roads and out of Afghan villages. With each call, Karzai has outlined in ever more stark lines a vision of a vastly less aggressive U.S. military posture against the Taliban. The stance is particularly risky for him politically because his government relies on NATO for its political and economic survival.
“I warn NATO forces that a repeat of airstrikes on the houses of Afghanistan’s people will not be allowed,” Karzai said at a news conference at the presidential palace. “The people of Afghanistan will not allow this to happen anymore, and there is no excuse for such strikes.”
He added that foreign forces are close to “the behavior of an occupation” and the “Afghan people know how to deal with that” — a thinly veiled threat that Afghans could rise up against NATO and drive them out as with past occupying armies. He said Afghanistan would be “forced to take unilateral action” if the bombardment of homes did not cease, although he did not specify what that action would be.
“History is a witness [to] how Afghanistan deals with occupiers,” he said.
Karzai lacks the authority to order NATO to stop airstrikes on homes. But his criticism strikes at a central weapon for U.S. military planners: Airstrikes have surged during the past year and numbered nearly 300 in April.
The immediate provocation for Karzai’s remarks was a U.S. military airstrike in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province that killed at least nine civilians, including children. But Karzai’s statement also was the culmination of years of complaints about civilian casualties and aggressive NATO military operations.
Some Western diplomats in Kabul who have worked closely with Karzai think these statements reflect his authentic beliefs and are not simply an attempt to score domestic political points. They say he is deeply frustrated by his inability as president to exert real authority over the foreign presence in Afghanistan …
“I think part of him is crying out for help,” said one senior Western diplomat in Kabul, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Poor Karzai. Western diplomats. Authentic beliefs. And deep frustration. “Crying out for help.” Huh. Perhaps it might have been appropriate, upon fielding his demand, to tell him to go arrest his criminal brother Wali Karzai, have honest elections, stop releasing Taliban prisoners, and stop trying to ally with the enemy. So what about the specific instance that catalyzed this demand?
Although U.S. and NATO officials say they have made reducing civilian deaths a top priority, they concede that it is almost impossible to eliminate them entirely, particularly as insurgents fight in and among the population. They said the deaths last week in Helmand were such an example.
On Saturday, a U.S. Marine patrol was attacked by five insurgents in the Now Zad district of Helmand, killing one Marine. U.S. military officials described the assault as an attack from three sides and said the Marines were “pinned down” by gunfire. The insurgents then took cover in a walled house and continued to fight until the Marines called in a Harrier fighter jet for an airstrike. “Unfortunately, the compound the insurgents purposefully occupied was later discovered to house innocent civilians,” U.S. Marine Maj. Gen. John Toolan, the NATO commander in Afghanistan’s southwest, said in a statement.
Petraeus’s tactical directive on airstrikes says that troops cannot call in close air support on a housing compound unless they are under an imminent threat; simply watching insurgents run into a house is not sufficient grounds for an airstrike.
“Everything we’ve seen indicates this was within the current directive,” said one U.S. military official in Kabul. “The only way they could get out of the situation and survive was to call in close air support.”
Perhaps Karzai wants to see dead Marines. Perhaps we should completely ignore the one who is “crying out for help.” Perhaps it’s time to withdraw from Afghanistan if we’re going to kowtow to ridiculous demands that harm the troops.
Curiously, this article has been revised since original issue. It originally stated that the Afghan government was already involved – even to the point of giving approval – for many of the high value target raids in Afghanistan. We are already kowtowing to Karzai’s ridiculous demands.