KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan President Hamid Karzai is calling for the U.S. and NATO to cut back on airstrikes in the battle against Taliban and al-Qaida militants, saying too many civilians have been killed.
Karzai said that six years after the U.S.-led invasion the Afghan people "cannot comprehend as to why there is still a need for air power."
"The United States and the coalition forces are not (killing civilians) deliberately. The United States is here to help the Afghan people," Karzai told the U.S. news program "60 Minutes" for a story scheduled to air Sunday night.
Asked if he wants the use of airstrikes curtailed, Karzai replies, "Absolutely. Oh, yes, in clear words and I want to repeat that, (there are) alternatives to the use of air force."
At least 700 civilians have died because of insurgency-related violence this year, and about half of those deaths were caused by U.S. or NATO military action, often because of airstrikes hitting civilian homes, according to an Associated Press tally based on numbers from Afghan and Western officials.
The use of airpower is key to the U.S. and NATO fight against insurgents because of Afghanistan's mountainous terrain and the sheer size of the country. U.S. and NATO officials say Taliban fighters frequently attack their soldiers from civilian homes that the insurgents have commandeered.
But such deaths incite resentment against U.S. forces and have sparked several anti-U.S. and anti-NATO demonstrations this year. Karzai has pleaded repeatedly with Western forces to do all they can to prevent such deaths, and he broke down in tears during a public speech earlier this year after recounting the deaths of Afghan children from airstrikes.
Lt. Col. David Accetta, a spokesman for the U.S. military, said he was not aware of any formal request by the Afghan government for the U.S. to curtail the use of air power.
Air power "is part of the way that a modern military force conducts operations," he said. "We take every precaution possible to mitigate the potential for collateral damage and non-combatant casualties."
Maj. Charles Anthony, a spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force, said he was also not aware of any request to cut back the use of air assets. He said procedures were in place to "ensure that we absolutely minimize the risk to civilians."
Violence in Afghanistan this year has been the deadliest since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. More than 5,200 people have died because of insurgency-related violence, according to the AP count.