Stop Civilian Deaths, Karzai Tells Obama

Published on
by
The Toronto Star

Stop Civilian Deaths, Karzai Tells Obama

Wedding guests believed killed by U.S. air strike

by
Bill Graveland

Afghan President Hamid Karzai gestures as he congratulates U.S. President-elect Barack Obama during a news conference in Kabul November 5, 2008. (Omar Sobhani/Reuters)

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Afghan President Hamid Karzai urged U.S.
president-elect Barack Obama to end civilian casualties once and for
all yesterday amid reports that dozens of women and children were
killed in U.S. air strikes on a wedding party in southern Afghanistan.

The
U.S. military said it was investigating the reported bombing. A
spokesperson added, "if innocent people were killed, we apologize and
express our condolences."

The governor of Kandahar province,
Rahmatullah Raufi, told a news conference yesterday that the Taliban
attacked an American convoy in an area where a wedding party was also
underway.

The Americans responded by calling in an air strike, he said.

"It
was a mistake - they hit the wedding party and thought it was the
Taliban," Raufi said. "The plane hit the mountain and the village, too,
which resulted in heavy civilian casualties."

The governor declined to venture a guess on the number of dead. Accounts from others varied widely.

One
witness, Juma Khan, said 37 people, including 23 children and 10 women,
were killed in his compound. A senior official with Kandahar's
provincial government put the death toll as high as 90.

The
report of air strikes in the Shah Wali Kot district comes three months
after the Afghan government and a preliminary UN investigation found
that a U.S. operation killed some 90 civilians in western Afghanistan.

Initially,
U.S. officials said five to seven people died in that attack on the
village in Herat province, but a subsequent American investigation
prompted by video evidence raised that toll to 33.

Canadian
ground troops also operate in the Shah Wali Kot region but were not
involved in Monday's hostilities, said Canadian Forces spokesperson
Maj. Jay Janzen.

"Canadian troops are responsible for Kandahar
province. We do occasionally go into the Shah Wali Kot area but do not
proceed as far north as where the incident occurred."

Karzai
referred to the bombing at a news conference yesterday to congratulate
Obama on his victory in the U.S. presidential election.

Karzai
said his first demand of the new president is to prevent civilian
casualties in operations by foreign forces, specifically air strikes
that he said had caused deaths in the Shah Wali Kot district.

"As we speak, there are civilian casualties in Afghanistan," Karzai said.

"The
coalition and Afghan authorities are investigating reports of
non-combatant casualties in the village of Wech Baghtu," said Cmdr.
Jeff Bender, spokesperson for the U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

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