Afghans want a deal on foreign troops

Posted in NATO , Afghanistan , United States | 26-Aug-08 | Author: Carlotta Gall| Source: International Herald Tribune

Afghans prepare graves for people killed by a US airstrike on Azizabad village in Herat province. The Afghan cabinet has demanded the renegotiation of agreements regulating the presence of the international community in Afghanistan after more than 90 civilians were killed in US-led air strikes.

KABUL, Afghanistan: The Afghan Council of Ministers decided Monday to review the presence of international forces and agreements with foreign allies, including NATO and the United States, after a series of military operations that have caused mounting civilian losses.

The ministers demanded a status of forces agreement, which would stipulate that the authority and responsibilities of international forces be negotiated, and they said that aerial bombing, illegal detentions and house raids by international forces must be stopped.

The declaration came after several military operations involving American forces resulted in heavy civilian casualties, most recently airstrikes in western Afghanistan on Friday that killed more than 90 people, most of them women and children, according to a government commission. The United States military is investigating the latest episode; it earlier said the airstrikes had killed 5 civilians and 25 militants.

As security has deteriorated in the country and economic conditions have worsened, the government and its international partners have encountered rising popular dissatisfaction.

Heavy-handed bombing raids and house raids, which are seen as culturally unacceptable by many Afghans who guard their privacy fiercely, and the detention of hundreds of suspects for years without trial at the Bagram air base and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, have stirred up Afghans' strong independent streak and ancient dislike of invaders.

President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly called for foreign forces to coordinate operations with Afghan forces and local authorities, and for greater care to be used with airstrikes. In an interview in April, Karzai warned that civilian casualties were undermining the fight against terrorism, and he questioned, as many Afghans do, why Afghan villagers were under attack when the militants' training camps in Pakistan were left untouched.

"The war against terrorism is not in Afghan villages," he said. "The war against terrorism is elsewhere, and that's where the war should go."

The Council of Ministers' declaration was issued after a weekly Monday meeting that is usually led by the president and attended by about 25 ministers and the two vice presidents.

The council condemned the rising number of civilian casualties and said: "The issues of uncoordinated house searches and harassing civilians have also been of concern to the government of Afghanistan, which has been shared with the commanders of international forces in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, to date, our demands have not been addressed. Rather, more civilians, including women and children, are losing their lives as a result of air raids."

A presidential spokesman, Homayun Hamidzada, said the government wanted to review all aspects of the international presence, including the presence of military forces, to clarify roles and responsibilities.

"In 2001 there was a different Afghanistan; today there is a government and a parliament. The situation has evolved, and it is just about time," he said.

Hamidzada said the various declarations and agreements that Afghanistan had signed with its international partners since 2001 amounted only to "ad hoc" arrangements and an exchange of letters.

The Afghan Defense Ministry has a status of forces agreement with the United Nations-mandated forces from NATO, but not with the United States-led coalition, its counterterrorism forces or the forces of Operation Enduring Freedom, Hamidzada said. Afghanistan has only a declaration of strategic partnership with the United States, he said.

According to a report by the Congressional Research Service, Afghanistan did enter into a 2003 agreement that gave United States military personnel the equivalent of diplomatic immunity in Afghanistan, and while not authorizing the United States to carry out military operations, the agreement recognized that they were continuing. In 2005, President George W. Bush and Karzai signed a joint declaration outlining a prospective future agreement between the countries.

The Afghan government now wants a multilateral agreement between Afghanistan and members of the international community, specifically covering NATO, the United States-led coalition and the forces of Operation Enduring Freedom, Hamidzada said.

The Council of Ministers ordered the military and foreign affairs ministers to start a review and begin negotiations with international partners. More Articles in World » A version of this article appeared in print on August 26, 2008, on page A9 of the New York edition.