Afghanistan's president on Wednesday decried civilian casualties in his country from foreign bombing raids, telling world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly that innocent deaths can seriously hurt legitimate efforts to fight terrorism.
U.S.-Afghan relations have suffered over the issue, and President Hamid Karzai said continuing casualties hurt "the credibility of the Afghan people's partnership with the international community."
The issue was propelled to the forefront of U.S.-Afghan relations when an Afghan commission found that an Aug. 22 U.S.-led operation in the western village of Azizabad killed 90 civilians, including 60 children. That finding was backed by a preliminary U.N. report, though the U.S. says it is still investigating.
Karzai also pushed for giving Afghanistan more power. The international community, he said, should redouble its efforts to strengthen the Afghan army and police so they can more strongly fight terrorism and protect Afghanistan's people.
"Above all, Afghan-i-sation of the military operations is vital if the problem of civilian casualties is to be addressed effectively," Karzai said in his speech.
A violent year
His comments come as Taliban attacks grow larger and more deadly. This has been the most violent year in Afghanistan since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that ousted the Taliban's hard-line Islamist government.
"Terrorist forces have significantly increased their attacks and brutality and enjoyed freedom in their sanctuaries," Karzai said.
Attacks in South Asia will continue, he said, until the world dismantles the "elaborate institutional support terrorists enjoy in the region and eliminate their secure sanctuaries."
He also praised the democratic transition in Pakistan, where a new government has replaced Pervez Musharraf, a former general and close U.S. ally who took power in a 1999 coup.
Afghanistan and Pakistan have long squabbled over how to deal with extremists who have made their shared border a base for attacks on U.S.-led forces and others.
'Undermanned and understaffed'
On Monday, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to extend the NATO-led force in Afghanistan but was critical of the growing number of civilian casualties, and urged its troops and U.S.-led forces to make major efforts to minimize civilian deaths.
At least 120 U.S. soldiers and 104 troops from other NATO nations have died already in 2008, both record numbers. Overall, more than 4,500 people — mostly militants — have died in attacks this year.
Karzai said Tuesday that he agreed with the senior U.S. general in Afghanistan, David McKiernan, who recently said there are not enough U.S. ground forces in the country. "The force is undermanned and understaffed," Karzai said.
The United States has more than 30,000 troops in Afghanistan, and Bush has ordered an Army brigade of about 3,700 soldiers that had been preparing to deploy to Iraq to instead go to Afghanistan in January.