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Killing of civilians by U.S.-led NATO forces could jeopardize signing of security pact

The killing of innocent civilians, including women and children, in recent attacks by U.S.-led coalition forces against the Taliban insurgents has generated anti- American sentiments among Afghans and could jeopardize the signing of the proposed bilateral security agreement (BSA) between Kabul and Washington.

In the coalition air strikes on April 6 in the eastern province of Kunar, 11 Afghan children were reported to have been killed and six women injured.

President Hamid Karzai has denounced the killing of civilians by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and warned that repeated killing of Afghan civilians could negatively impact Afghan-U.S. relations.

A statement released by the president's office said that Karzai has expressed to U.S. President Barak Obama his grave concerns over continued civilian casualties, particularly referring to the deaths of children in the recent ISAF military operation in Kunar province.

The statement said that Karzai told Obama on Tuesday that the continuation of such incidents could jeopardize the signing of a bilateral security pact that is aimed at allowing continued but limited U.S. military presence in Afghanistan after the pullout of all foreign troops from the country in 2014.

"There is no doubt that the killing of civilians by NATO troops would have an adverse impact on the people's perception of the intent of the foreign forces and has damaged the credibility of government in protecting its citizens in the protracted war on terror," Pariani Nazari, editor-in-chief of the Daily Mandegar, an Afghan newspaper, said.

Nazari also lashed at the Taliban for using civilians as shield in the fight against the NATO forces, saying it is the responsibility of NATO, the government, and the Taliban to protect the lives of innocent civilians, especially children and women.

Residents of Shalton area of Shigal district in Kunar province, where the 11 children were killed, brought the bodies of their dead to the district headquarters last week. They demanded that the government bring to justice those responsible for the carnage.

Civilian casualties by the ISAF has served as a source of tension between Kabul and Washington.

Karzai has said on several occasions that war against terrorists in Afghan villages is not a correct approach since, according to him, the actual sanctuaries of the Taliban and other armed insurgents are not inside but outside Afghanistan, referring to the border areas inside Pakistan. Pakistan, however, has denied claims that the Taliban is based on Pakistani soil.

In March, Karzai's chief spokesman Aimal Faizy described NATO- led forces' war on terror in Afghanistan as "aimless and unwise," adding that most Afghans believe that this war should be discontinued.

Over the past year, officials of Afghanistan and the United States have been trying to craft the BSA but apparently still have gotten nowhere.

Washington has insisted on seeking immunity from prosecution for its military personnel who will remain in Afghanistan after 2014, a condition that is a standard provision in all the status of forces agreement (SOFA) that the United States has with other countries.

Karzai has said that the grant of immunity from suit against American servicemen would have to be decided by the Loya Jirga or grand assembly composed of tribal chieftains, notables and functionaries.

Earlier in February, in the wake of complaints from local officials in Wardak province, Karzai ordered the pullout of U.S. special forces from the central province, a decision widely welcomed by the people there.

[Source: Xinhua, Kabul, 13Apr13]

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