Afghan President Hamid Karzai is blaming the U.S. and the Taliban for an April 6 attack that killed 17 civilians, including 12 children in Shigal village, Kunar Province. The recent statement reflects a broadening rift between Kabul and Washington over attacks by coalition forces in recent months that have left dozens dead and many injured.
Karzai issued the statement this week after an Afghan investigation into the April 6 attack raised the civilian death toll from 11 to 17, including 12 children, four women and one man. An American civilian adviser was also killed during the fighting.
“The fighting started yesterday morning [April 6] and continued for at least seven hours. There were heavy exchanges between both sides,” tribal elder Haji Malika Jan told the BBC at the time of the attacks. “The area is very close to the Pakistani border and there are hundreds of local and foreign fighters, mostly Pakistanis, in the area.”
The event likely will broaden the chasm between Karzai and the Obama administrations as Washington prepares to wind down a decade-long occupation that has killed more than 16,000 Afghan civilians.
The strike in Kunar Province was intended to target Taliban fighters in the area. U.S. forces acknowledge that there was a strike on Shigal village but have not confirmed any civilian deaths, claiming the incident is still “under investigation.” Just two days prior to the Kunar incident, another airstrike hit Ghazni Province, killing four local police and two civilians.
The airstrike earlier this month leveled several houses in the village, killing civilians trapped in their houses. Most of the homes were reportedly made of wood and mud, collapsing under the shock of the explosions. President Karzai maintains that airstrikes in residential areas are “aimless and unwise,” while also accusing the Taliban of using civilian houses as cover during the fighting.
The civilian deaths in Kunar and other provinces have strained an already tenuous trust the Obama administration has tried to cultivate with both the civilian population and the Karzai government. Karzai, once a close ally moving in lockstep with Washington, has put the U.S. on notice, declaring the civilian deaths unacceptable.
In February, Karzai demanded U.S. special forces leave the Wardak Province in Afghanistan after villagers complained that nine male villagers had disappeared, presumed killed by U.S. troops.
“People have been complaining about U.S. special forces units torturing people, killing people in that province — and nine individuals were taken from their homes recently and they have just disappeared and no one knows where they have gone,” said Aimal Faizi, a spokesperson for Karzai.
Although President Karzai had originally demanded that all forces leave Wardak immediately, he later struck a deal with Washington late last month for a scheduled, phased withdrawal of all forces from the area. Wardak, a small province just south of Kabul, remains a stronghold for Taliban fighters battling both Afghan and NATO forces.
The U.S. has vowed to withdraw the majority of combat troops by 2014. The bulk of the NATO coalition forces are set to leave by the end of the year.
According to the Brown University Costs of War project, 16,725 to 19,013 Afghan civilians have been killed as a result of U.S. and Taliban fighting since 2001. According to Brown researchers, “Civilians have been killed by crossfire, improvised explosive devices, assassination, bombing and night raids into houses of suspected insurgents. Unexploded ordnance from previous wars and from U.S. cluster bombs continue to kill even in the absence of fighting.”