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Obama White House: U.S. Will Not Halt Afghan Air Strikes

Will Dunham

Villagers sit near the graves of air strike victims in the village of Garni, in Afghanistan's western Farah province. the South Asian nation's president, Hamid Karzai, has demanded an end to US air strikes, which he said killed as many as 130 civilians earlier in the week and were infuriating the public.

WASHINGTON  - The United States will not end air strikes in Afghanistan as demanded by President Hamid Karzai after two villages were hit by U.S. warplanes last week, White House National Security Advisor James Jones said on Sunday.

Civilian casualties from U.S. air strikes has caused friction between the Afghan government and the United States. Karzai made his demand last week during a visit to Washington in which he met President Barack Obama.

"We're going to take a look at trying to make sure that we correct those things we can correct, but certainly to tie the hands of our commanders and say we're not going to conduct air strikes, it would be imprudent," Jones, a retired U.S. Marine Corps general, told the ABC program "This Week."

Asked what reaction he expected from Karzai, Jones said: "I think he understands that we have to have the full complement of our offensive military power when we need it. ... We can't fight with one hand tied behind our back."

But Jones said the United States took seriously the issue of civilian casualties and would "redouble our efforts to make sure that innocent civilians are not killed."

Speaking on "Fox News Sunday," Army General David Petraeus, who as head of U.S. Central Command oversees military operations in Afghanistan, said he had named a U.S. brigadier general to look at the use of air strikes in Afghanistan.


Petraeus, who said he spoke to Karzai about air strikes, said it was important to ensure "that our tactical actions don't undermine our strategic goals and objectives."

The U.S. military acknowledged on Saturday that the air strikes in western Afghanistan last week that struck crowded homes in two villages in Farah province had killed civilians. Karzai put the death toll at up to 130 people.

If confirmed, it would be the deadliest single incident affecting Afghan civilians since U.S. forces invaded in 2001 and toppled the Taliban government that had harbored the al Qaeda network responsible for the September 11 attacks.

The deaths in Farah inflamed Afghan anger about the impact of air strikes and overshadowed Karzai's meeting with Obama. A joint U.S.-Afghan statement suggested Taliban fighters may have worsened the toll by using civilians as human shields.

"They're using civilians as shields," Jones said. "So we have to take a look at this, make sure that our commanders understand, you know, the subtleties of the situation, the complexity of it, and do the right thing."

Former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, speaking on the CBS program "Face the Nation," also defended air strikes.

"I think we need to do whatever we have to do there to be able to prevail." he said. "Air strikes are an important part of that."

Analysts say Western troops are spread relatively thinly on the ground, making them overly reliant on air support. Karzai has called for greater backing for Afghan institutions and the Afghan security forces to replace bombing raids.


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