Image: Afghan men examine a destroyed house
Humayoun Shiab  /  EPA
Afghan men examine a house allegedly destroyed by U.S. airstrikes in Kandahar, Afghanistan, on Wednesday.
updated 11/5/2008 3:34:52 PM ET 2008-11-05T20:34:52

The Afghan president congratulated Barack Obama and called on him Wednesday to halt civilian casualties as villagers said U.S. warplanes bombed a wedding party, killing 37 people — most of them children.

President Hamid Karzai said airstrikes cannot win the fight against terrorism.

"Our demand is that there will be no civilian casualties in Afghanistan. We cannot win the fight against terrorism with airstrikes," Karzai said. "This is my first demand of the new president of the United States — to put an end to civilian casualties."

Karzai spoke about the deaths at a news conference held to congratulate Obama on his election victory.

Obama has talked about the issue of civilian deaths in the past. In remarks in August that drew criticism from Republicans, he said: "We've got to get the job done there and that requires us to have enough troops so that we're not just air-raiding villages and killing civilians, which is causing enormous problems there."

Military investigating deaths
The U.S. military said it was investigating the deaths from bombing of remote Wech Baghtu in the southern province of Kandahar. A villager said American forces had given them permission to bury the dead, which he said included 23 children and 10 women.

A U.S. spokesman, Cmdr. Jeff Bender, added that "if innocent people were killed in this operation, we apologize and express our condolences."

Abdul Jalil, a 37-year-old grape farmer whose niece was getting married, told an Associated Press reporter at the scene of the bombing that U.S. troops and Taliban fighters had been fighting about a half mile from his home.

Fighter aircraft destroyed his compound and killed 37 people, Jalil said. Karzai's office said the attack killed about 40 people and wounded 28. The bodies were buried before the AP reporter arrived, and he could not verify the death toll.

Mohammad Nabi Khan, who witnessed the bombing, told AP at the main hospital in Kandahar city that two of his sons, ages 4 and 11, and his wife's brother were among the dead.

"What kind of security are the foreign troops providing in Afghanistan?" he asked.

Wedding parties in Afghanistan are segregated by gender, explaining why so many women and children could have died.

Karzai urges focus on sources of terror
In a statement from his office, Karzai condemned the civilian deaths and urged military forces to avoid Afghan villages and instead concentrate on the "sources" of terrorism, a clear reference to Pakistan.

Civilian casualties, which undermine popular support for the Afghan government and the international mission, have long been a point of friction between Karzai and the U.S. or NATO.

According to an AP count of civilian deaths this year, U.S. or NATO forces have killed at least 275 civilians, while 590 have died from militant-caused violence like suicide bombs.

The airstrikes in Kandahar come three months after the Afghan government found that a U.S. operation killed some 90 civilians in the a western village. After initially denying any civilians had died there, a U.S. report concluded that 33 civilians were killed.

Following that operation, Karzai said relations between Afghanistan and the United States were seriously damaged.

Jalil said American forces came into his village late Monday night or Tuesday morning — after the bombing run — and searched the villagers and detained some men.

Jalil said he told the Americans that they could search his vineyards and his home but that they wouldn't find any militants.

U.S. pledges help
Elsewhere in Kabul, Gen. David Petreaus, the new chief of U.S. Central Command, met with Afghan Defense Minister Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak and assured officials that Obama's victory will not change U.S. commitment to Afghanistan, an Afghan official said.

"Until Afghanistan can stand on its own feet the United States will help," Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi quoted Petreaus as saying.

Many observers expect the U.S. military to change its focus from Iraq to Afghanistan under an Obama administration.

Karzai said he hopes the election will "bring peace to Afghanistan, life to Afghanistan and prosperity to the Afghan people and the rest of the world." He applauded America for its "courage" in electing Obama.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments