U.S. Effort Stokes Friction in Afghan War

JULIAN E. BARNES And DION NISSENBAUM
Sunday, 10-June-2012

 

KABUL: U.S. tensions with Afghanistan and Pakistan over American action against militants flared on Thursday as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta assailed Islamabad for its lack of cooperation and the Afghan president denounced an airstrike that United Nations officials said killed civilians.

Mr. Panetta, on a brief visit to the Afghan capital, said the U.S. was "reaching the limits of our patience" with Pakistan for not doing enough to crack down on the Haqqani network, the Taliban-affiliated group based in Pakistan that has been blamed for staging attacks on American targets in Afghanistan.

"It is extremely important that Pakistan take steps to prevent terrorists from using their country as a safety net in order to conduct attacks on our forces," Mr. Panetta said during a news conference with Afghanistan's defense minister, Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak.

Pakistan's government has said it doesn't have the resources for a full offensive against the Haqqanis. Islamabad has also been critical of the U.S.'s use of drones to target terrorists on Pakistani soil, which Islamabad says violate sovereignty and endanger civilians.

After the U.S. reported that a drone strike in Pakistan this week killed al Qaeda's No. 2 leader, Abu Yahya al-Libi, Mr. Panetta has been defending the drone campaign and warning of further attacks.

In a talk with members of the U.S. military ahead of the meeting with Afghanistan's Mr. Wardak, Mr. Panettas said the U.S. would defend itself against the Haqqani network and "take the battle to them."

Mr. Panetta has declined to say explicitly that the U.S. would step up drone attacks against the network in Pakistan.

Also Thursday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai criticized the U.S.-led coalition for an airstrike that United Nations and Afghan officials said killed 18 people, most of them women and children, early Wednesday in Logar province south of Kabul.

Coalition "operations that inflict human and material losses to civilians can in no way be justifiable, acceptable and tolerable," Mr. Karzai said in a statement from China. Mr. Karzai cut short a visit to a regional summit there so he could return home to deal with the fallout from the airstrike, according to the statement.

Mr. Karzai has repeatedly criticized airstrikes that kill civilians. On Thursday, Afghan officials blamed U.S. forces for ordering the Logar airstrike, which targeted a suspected meeting of Taliban commanders.

The coalition says it sent investigators to Logar to investigate reports of civilian deaths and is taking the allegations seriously. Mr. Panetta made no public mention of the incident during his Kabul visit.

Afghan and U.S. officials said the joint Afghan-U.S. forces team encountered small-arms fire as it approached the house. The joint force called on civilians to come out, but Taliban fighters warned the Afghans that they would be shot by the Americans if they did, according to a Western official investigating the incident.

Three American and two Afghan soldiers were wounded before the U.S. force ordered the airstrike, according to Afghan officials.

A U.N. official said the airstrike killed at least 16 civilians—two men, five women, and nine children, including a 10-month-old.

It remained unclear if the other two men reported killed in the strike were militants, the official said.

Wednesday marked the most deadly day yet of 2012 for civilians in Afghanistan, the U.N. said. Along with the deaths in Logar, more than 22 others were killed by a pair of suicide bombers in Kandahar province.

Western officials took note that Mr. Karzai's Thursday statement condemning the U.S.-led coalition remained silent on the Kandahar attack by insurgents.

The U.N. mission in Afghanistan condemned both attacks in the same statement on Thursday, and called on the U.S.-led coalition and Taliban fighters to protect Afghan civilians.

Mr. Panetta said the latest spike in violence hadn't led the U.S. to consider altering its plans to withdraw 23,000 surge forces over the summer. He said U.S. Marine Gen. John Allen, commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, told him he has the forces to deal with the violence as he winds down the surge.

Mr. Wardak, the Afghan defense minister, called on U.S. troop levels to be dependent on the level of violence in the country, and said the current plan could be adjusted if needed.

"I would like to reiterate what you have said, that there is enough flexibility to review the security situation periodically and not to become detached from the realities of the ground," Mr. Wardak said. —Habib Khan Totakhil contributed to this article.

Write to Julian E. Barnes at julian.barnes@wsj.com and Dion Nissenbaum at dion.nissenbaum@wsj.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 



    

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