updated 3/3/2011 9:01:29 AM ET 2011-03-03T14:01:29

Afghanistan's president has warned President Barack Obama that civilian casualties like the nine Afghan boys killed by coalition helicopters this week are a serious problem that needs to be better addressed by the U.S.-led forces.

President Hamid Karzai and Obama spoke over a secure video conference link on Wednesday, the same day NATO forces acknowledged accidentally killing the boys, ages 12 and under.

Civilian casualties have long been a source of friction between the NATO force and Karzai, who condemned the deaths, saying the victims were "innocent children who were collecting firewood for their families during this cold winter."

"The Afghan president said the increase in civilian casualties is a serious difficulty and he emphasized the need to make progress on this," said a statement released Thursday by Karzai's office. "The American president expressed strong regret for recent civilian casualties, and said he has told his military officials to work to decrease civilian casualties."

Civilian deaths have jumped this year primarily because of increased attacks from insurgents, according to U.N. data. In the latest such incident, an Afghan civilian was killed late Wednesday by a roadside bomb outside southern Kandahar city, the provincial governor's office said.

But allegations of civilian deaths from NATO forces who pledge to protect the population often cause much more anger.

Karzai's relations with the Obama administration have been strained compared with the personal relationship he had with former President George W. Bush, who had frequent videoconference calls with the mercurial Afghan leader.

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Last month, Afghanistan's new ambassador to the United States, Eklil Hakimi, proposed more regular communication between Obama and Karzai, saying the more they interact face-to-face by phone or videoconference calls, the better U.S.-Afghan relations will be.

Poor communication with Karzai
On Wednesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Congress that American officials have hurt the war effort by often not taking seriously Karzai's complaints on issues ranging from civilian casualties to private security companies.

The killing of the nine boys took place Tuesday in the Pech valley area of Kunar province. Several hundred villagers in the area responded by protesting for four hours Wednesday against coalition strikes. Demonstrators chanted "Death to America" and "Death to the spies," a reference to what they said was bad intelligence given to helicopter weapons teams.

The incident came less than two weeks after tribal elders there claimed NATO forces killed more than 50 civilians in recent air and ground strikes. An Afghan government investigation maintained that 65 civilians died in recent coalition operations in a remote part of the province, a hotbed of the insurgency.

The coalition denied allegations that 65 civilians were killed in Kunar, saying video clearly showed troops targeting and killing dozens of insurgents.

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NATO apology
NATO apologized for the boys' deaths on Wednesday. Gen. David Petraeus, top commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, said disciplinary action, if warranted, would be taken.

On Thursday, Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, who directs day-to-day operations of coalition forces across Afghanistan, issued a video statement of apology.

In the video, Rodriguez said that that troops at the base were responding to a rocket attack and dispatched attack helicopters to the location they were told the rockets came from.

"The helicopters identified what they thought were insurgents, killing nine," Rodriguez said.

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A short time later, the coalition learned the nine were not insurgents, but boys who had been cutting wood, he said. Rodriguez said the coalition has been working to prevent civilian casualties, but "we acknowledge we have to do better."

A NATO service member was killed Thursday by a bomb attack in southern Afghanistan, the international military coalition said. NATO did not provide further details or the victim's nationality, in keeping with a policy of waiting for national authorities to identify casualties.

Thirty-six NATO service members were killed in Afghanistan in February.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Gates: U.S. has done ‘lousy job’ of listening to Karzai

  1. Closed captioning of: Gates: U.S. has done ‘lousy job’ of listening to Karzai

    >>> i think we have done a lousy job of listening to president karzai . because every issue that has become a public explosion from president karzai has been an issue that he has talked to american officials about repeatedly in private. where do we set the standards in terms of our goals? we are not there to build a 21st century afghanistan . what do we need to do in terms of development, both in terms of governance and also in terms of their capabilities and so on that, frankly, gives us a path out, having accomplished our objectives?

    >> okay. one question you'd think the answer was already considered many, many times and still has not been on afghanistan . welcome back to " morning joe ." ed rendell still with us and joining the table because he feels like it, msnbc contributor mike barnicle . good to have you on board. we have a lot to get to this morning. afghanistan , secretary gates in specific.

    >> isn't it something we are still -- we've been there for a decade and we get the secretary of defense having to ask that question in a congressional hearing a decade after our troops have been dying in afghanistan .

    >> and there's a horrific air strike that killed nine children to talk about in the news as well, coming up. which just adds another dimension, yet another dimension to what seems to be an endless war .

    >> willie was talk before about a movie.

    >> hbo.

    >> we were talking about the insane and mike was too, rules of engagement for american men and women over there.

    >> one of the earliest scenes in the film. you can watch it on demand on hbo. they can fire but they have to fired upon. they sit there, watch the taliban create a circle around them.

    >> the taliban knows they can't shoot.

    >> when they hear the first shots fired they can respond. they can defeat them with overwhelming force but not before their guys take a couple of shots.

    >> we talk about afghanistan all the time. i talk about this not from an anti-war point of view, i talk about this from a guy that was in a district, i had five military bases in my district and i saw time and time again what these families go through. is t is disgraceful what we are going to men and women in uniform and their families in afghanistan . by dragging out a war where there is no good ending to that war. we have politicians in washington , d.c. that are letting our men and women die in afghanistan right now. after the mission was accomplished years ago of hunting down al qaeda . and yet they're doing it not for military reasons, doing it for political reasons, because they don't want to be blamed for losing the war and young men and women are dying because of it. it is disgraceful what is going on in washington , d.c. on afghanistan and it's disgraceful that the news media is not reporting this!

    >> joe, it's a disgrace that seeps down through all levels of our culture here at home and of our politics here at homant disgrace begins with the fact that less than 1% of the people in this country and their families are carrying the burden of this war. their hearts are being broken, we bitch about the rise in gasoline prices while they're burying their sons and daughters . that's one level of disgrace. the second level of disgrace, outlining, using the marine corps and the united states army as a peace corps in afghanistan . we keep hearing generals saying we're not leaving. well, the taliban aren't leaving either. they live there. the other element of disgrace is the fact that we spend each and every morning here talking about our shattered economy. we have 58,000 troops in afghanistan . we have 55,000 in germany . we have 35 or 40,000 in japan. bring them home. why are we in germany to such an extent? why are we in japan to such an extent? why do we have 85,000 young men and women on the ground in afghanistan fighting a war where in the pentagon and every place else, senate armed services , house armed services there's no definition of victory. leave.

    >> secretary of defense can't say it. ed?

    >> the last point mike made, you know the figure, you quote it all the time, joe, about how much we're spending just in afghanistan .

    >> $2 billion a week.

    >> if we got out of afghanistan , iraq and germany , places like that, we could rebuild the american infrastructure and put millions of americans back to work. and it would be so much more productive. you want to talk about hard. i always thought i could express almost anything and express it well. i call every guardsman family in pennsylvania whose son or daughter dies in afghanistan or iraq. and i'm trying to give them some level of consolation. and i don't know what to say.

    >> you just can't.

    >> what did their son die for?

    >> oh, my god.

    >> and there -- when i spoke with parents who lost sons or daughters in afghanistan from 2001 to 2005 , i knew what to say.

    >> right.

    >> that was easy. we are going over there because they came here and we are destroying al qaeda .

    >> right.

    >> when there are 50 members of al qaeda in the entire country of afghanistan right now, you know what, governor, you know all i can say, i want you to know we're praying for you. last summer, talking to a lovely woman from florida who lost a 19-year-old son. a 19-year-old son, shot in the head by a sniper. and all i could do is say, you know, we're praying for your family. it is unspeakable what these families go through alone.

    >> it's another one of the issues in this country, like deficit reduction. where everyone knows what we ought to do but neither party wants to take the risk at being the first ones to do it and the answer is do it together.

    >> instead of building our infrastructure we're doing something else with that amount of money. we have this to report. general david petraeus , the top u.s. commander in afghanistan is apologizing for a nato air strike that killed 9 afghan children yesterday. in a statement petraeus said we are deeply sorry for this tragedy and apologized to members of the afghan government , the people of afghanistan and most importantly, the surviving family members of those killed by our actions. these deaths should have never happened. i will personally apologize to president karzai . military officials attributed the error to faulty communication as an air weapons team responded to an attack on a nato base. however, the strike is likely to increase already high tensions between karzai and nato commanders who came under scrutiny last month because of another case in which dozens of civilians were allegedly killed.

    >> we're putting our sons and daughters in an unwinnable situation. this as a parent of young children, this is an unspeakable tragedy. you also, though, look at the americans that are looking up from above, in a country they don't know, trying to figure out whether they're about to be blown out of the sky, mike. it is our president. it's our secretary of defense. it's members of congress that have put our troops in this position. and it is time to take them out of this position and bring them home.

    >> you're right. there's an interesting afterthought to this tragic story, mika. it is this. we very rarely follow it in american news media because we have to find out what charlie sheen is tweeting about.

    >> i'm with you.

    >> we have to stay on top of that. the afterstory is this, at some point today or tomorrow, in that village in afghanistan , there will be a company of either united states soldiers or united states marines , company commander will there be with cash, to measure the value of the lives lost, whether the child's family gets $10,000 in cash or $15,000 in cash, we'll be laid out in a group meeting with the town -- the village elders and they'll be paid cash for the loss of their child.

    >> so you have nine children sent out to collect wood in an impoverished area of afghanistan .

    >> to keep their family warm.

    >> and also you have the american service person who made that call, the person who is now going to live.

    >> live with that the rest of their lives. and also just looking at the long-term implications for the united states of america , we have just created a new generation of terrorists. we have people in washington , d.c. clueless through the impact of drone strikes where they killed 25 members of a family to get one target, one terrorist target. we are creating generations of terrorists right now by our actions. and there is -- we think it's a clean war. we think a drone war is say clean war? it's the messiest of all wars because what we're doing over there will lead to bombings in the united states of america over the next decade.

    >> and the argument for staying in afghanistan is to make our country more safe. to the extent there is an argument and this does the exact opposite. when you talk about creating propaganda against the united states , how about nine little kids killed while collecting firewood.

    >> we're creating people that hate us.

    >> when the russians were in afghanistan , they hated the russians. we're creating people who hate us.

    >> i'm a country music fan.

    >> we could always tell.

    >> go ahead, cowboy.

    >> there was a song that was on the air for a while and it was very popular. it was sung -- i forget who sang it. same guy who sang the song, have you forgotten about bin laden ?

    >> tobey keith ?

    >> no.

    >> the song said we're fighting over there for people who hate us. and you know, that's not all the afghanis or iraqis but it's true. we're making enemies by doing there. if we're going to give cash, give the cash but stay out. don't put american men and women in --

    >> you could look at the polls. the united states were popular over there for the first five or six years. they understood about al qaeda . they understood about bin laden . and they liked what was happening. it has turned very ugly the past few years.

    >> we gave them back a sense of freedom, particularly the women of afghanistan .

    >> that's why howard dean 's point yesterday is not to be left out of the conversation. there are difficult, painful, moral decisions about leaving afghanistan . but we are investing our own men and women and throwing them away. by the way, it's not your son, it's not your son or my daughter. that's something we should be ashamed.

    >> my memory is what it is but i don't think anyone has asked the president of the united states in a press conference the following question -- are we fighting al qaeda in afghanistan ? who are we fighting in afghanistan ?

    >> the secretary of defense --

    >> he can't say.

    >> i mean, i get --

    >> we're fighting the taliban . the last time i checked the taliban doesn't want to invade santa monica , california.

    >> dr. brzezinski said that on this show, remember, willie, dr. brzezinski said as we moved forward and the white house should have listened to him, barack obama should have listened to dr. brzezinski two years ago. because he said we're coming to a fork in a road. we've been fighting al qaeda . we don't want to get into a war where we're fighting the taliban , because the taliban as reprehensible as they are, do not want to knock down build innings new york city . al qaeda does. the taliban does not have an international theory of destruction to destroy the united states of america . al qaeda does. guess what? leon panetta says there are only 50 al qaeda members, again, in afghanistan . we have shifted over the past two years, three years, into a war against the taliban . instead of a war against al qaeda . and the consequences are deaf devastating. it's different.

    >> i feel terribly for women in afghanistan who will be stoned to death because they wink at a guy at a village bazaar. i feel worse, not sorry to say, for a 52-year-old firefighter or machinist from philadelphia, pennsylvania, who has lost a job over the last two years and has no shot of getting another shot of getting another job like he had.

    >> and whose son just got killed in afghanistan or whose daughter just got killed or had their leg blown off in afghanistan .

    >> they are terrible, terrible choices and they have to be made. we're letting this linger and go on and on and on.

    >> look at the white house . governor, they say 2011 we're going to get out. then it's 2014 . joe biden , a guy that we all love around here. he goes on "meet the press" and joe biden who didn't want to triple the number of troops in afghanistan like barack obama did, he wanted to reduce them. joe biden said we'll be out by 2011 come hell or high water . the next day he was correctioned by the administration who said we'll be there to 2017 , 2018 , the generals want us there until 2021 .

    >> the republicans are the most reprehensib reprehensible, a small group of them on capitol hill who are thinking we can make this to make obama look weak.

    >>> still ahead, senator okay hagen. up next, we get a look at the new nbc news/" wall street journal " poll with chuck todd .


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