THE BLOG
10/03/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Jul 15, 2011

Afghanistan September 2008: Karzai Under Pressure Amid Rising Civilian Casualities & Calls for Troops Withdrawal

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has come under unprecedented pressure in the wake of allegations that a string of raids by US led Coalition forces has led to the death of dozens of Afghan civilians.

Following US led air strikes on August 22 which reportedly killed more than 90 Afghan civilians, Afghan protesters took to the streets in the Western province of Herat while an under-pressure Karzai condemned the attacks and sacked an Afghan Army General and a Major.

For the first time, Afghan lawmakers demanded a timetable for the withdrawal of coalition soldiers from Afghanistan, whom until then should be regulated and brought under Afghanistan's law.

As September rolled into Afghanistan, reports of more civilian casualties resulting from coalition operations emerged from the four corners of the country.

On Monday, the first day of the month, over 70 civilians were reportedly killed in a separate air strike by international forces in the Southern province of Helmand.

In the early dawn of the same day, four civilians including two very young children were killed in the Afghan capital Kabul after coalition troops threw a grenade into their suburban house in eastern Kabul.

Local TVs (Tolo & Ariana) showed footage of hundreds of protesters blocking the street in Kabul as the bodies were taken for burial.

In the Southeastern province of Paktika, at least three children were killed and seven were wounded on Monday as a result of NATO artillery fires which had been called in following a Taliban ambush of coalition convoys in the area.

A surge in violence in the hitherto peaceful province of Kapisa in Northern Afghanistan has resulted in civilian casualties in recent weeks while a suicide bomber attack on NATO convoy in the Northern Province of Kunduz killed one civilian and injured two Children on the first day of the month.

The August 22 attacks, if confirmed, would be one of the highest civilian tolls since international forces arrived in Afghanistan in late 2001 to expel the Taliban.

But the numbers remain disputed by a whopping margin of about 65 lives.

US led Coalition Forces maintain that 25 insurgents and five civilians were killed in the air raids which targeted insurgents in the Western province of Herat.

Local sources dispute the US claims, including the number of civilian casualties, which they say exceed 90 victims, mostly women and children.

According to the United Nations Mission in Afghanistan there is "convincing evidence" that

As pressure started mounting, Karzai dispatched an Afghan Investigation Team to probe the numbers. The team found:

As a result of the US bombardments in Azizabad and Nawabad villages of Shindand district, a total of 90 civilians -- 15 men, 15 women and 60 children ranging from one year to 18 years of age -- were killed.

The Afghan findings further report that there were no militants in the area and that the US-led Coalition forces took with themselves five more villagers following the deadly air strikes.

Subsequent US military field investigation found no evidence that as many as 90 civilians had been killed.

A senior U.S. defense official familiar with the findings reported to the CNN that the investigation reached the same conclusion that only 25 militants and five civilians had been killed in the air raids.

Missing in action, for a long time, have been the good ol' Western journalists who used to report live from the scene.

In the absence of independent accounts, partisan disputes have put President Karzai in an awkward position inside Afghanistan due to sensitivity of the matter while straining relations outside, primarily with the Western backers of the Afghan administration.

Local newspapers have called the increasing civilian casualties, "huge crisis" as Afghans began dawn-to-dusk fasting on the first day of the holy month of Ramadan.

On July 7 of this year, the Pakistani Intelligence was behind one of the deadliest attacks in Afghanistan when a suicide bomber attacked the Indian embassy in Kabul killing more than 40 Afghan men, women and children.
The US officials have publicly acknowledged the involvement of Pakistani intelligence in planning the attack.

According to UN assessment, in 2007 more than 8,000 lives were lost in Afghanistan as a result of the ongoing war on terror. Roughly more than 3,200 people have been killed so far in 2008.

The figures could be much higher because most of the Afghan countryside - the primary front lines of the war- remains outside the reach of independent observers, Western journalists and the control of Karzai's administration according to US intelligence assessment.

The only good news is that common sense seems to have finally prevailed over the August 22 attacks: the three sides, US, UN and Kazai's government have agreed to dispatch a joint probing team to the field.

The investigation is ongoing and the results will come out soon, but regardless, September 2008 horizon appears as red in Afghanistan as ever.

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