Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Hamid Karzai Essentially Ends the Afghan War in Favor of Taliban?

The US and its coalition partners have frequently targeted compounds in Afghanistan where Taliban and al Qaeda are suspected of carrying on meetings or gathering. Some of those airstrikes have resulted in civilian casualties, but after the latest such incident, Afghan leader Hamid Karzai has called on the US and the ISAF to cease targeting housing compounds, according to USA Today:
"From this moment, airstrikes on the houses of people are not allowed," Karzai told reporters in Kabul.

NATO says it never conducts such strikes without Afghan government coordination and approval. A spokesman for NATO forces in Afghanistan said they will review their procedures for airstrikes given Karzai's statement but did not say that it would force any immediate change in tactics.

"In the days and weeks ahead we will coordinate very closely with President Karzai to ensure that his intent is met," spokeswoman Maj. Sunset Belinsky said. Karzai has previously made strong statements against certain military tactics — such as night raids — only to back off from them later.

But if Karzai holds to what sounds like an order to international troops to abandon strikes, it could bring the Afghan government in direct conflict with its international allies.

"Coalition forces constantly strive to reduce the chance of civilian casualties and damage to structures, but when the insurgents use civilians as a shield and put our forces in a position where their only option is to use airstrikes, then they will take that option," Belinsky said.
Yet, the New York Times soft-pedals the report:
Speaking at a news conference at the presidential palace in Kabul, Mr. Karzai declined to offer specifics on what actions the government would take, saying only that Afghanistan “has a lot of ways of stopping it.”

In an admonishment that carried an air of threat, he said NATO forces were on the verge of being considered occupiers rather than allies.

“If they continue their attacks on our houses, then their presence will change from a force that is fighting against terrorism to a force that is fighting against the people of Afghanistan,” he said. “And in that case, history shows what Afghans do with trespassers and with occupiers.”

Mr. Karzai has used similar language before, but taken with other recent statements, his comments could further threaten a relationship with his Western backers that has been strained over issues like night raids, corruption and the continuing scandal surrounding questionable loans and huge losses at Kabul Bank.

NATO officials responded diplomatically, saying they would continue to work with the Afghan government to reduce civilian casualties.

“General Petraeus has repeatedly noted that every liberation force has to be very conscious that it can, over time, become seen as an occupation force,” Rear Adm. Vic Beck of the Navy, a spokesman for the NATO-led military coalition, said in a statement, referring to Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top coalition commander in Afghanistan. He added, “We are in agreement with President Karzai on the importance of constantly examining our actions in light of that reality — and we are doing just that.”
Karzai says that NATO shouldn't treat Afghanistan as an occupying nation. Nowhere does he make such harsh statements against the Taliban, which has been the bane of the Afghan's existence for so long:

That all but cedes the field of battle to the Taliban, who have no such interest in preserving civilian lives and who all too frequently target civilians and use civilians as human shields.

It makes going after the Taliban and al Qaeda increasingly difficult and means that further airstrikes against housing compounds would be bringing the US into a more direct conflict with Karzai and the Afghan government.

This puts the US in an untenable situation of trying to deal with the Taliban, who not only use the Pakistani frontier provinces as a safe haven, but use housing compounds inside Afghanistan to further destabilize the US-backed Afghan government.

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