Afghans urge US to cut civilian deaths
Tuesday 12 May 2009
Afghanistan today said it hoped the newly named commander of US and NATO troops would do more to avert civilian deaths, which had soured relations under outgoing commander General David McKiernan.
In a surprise move, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates removed the top US and NATO commander in Afghanistan yesterday and picked a former special forces commander to oversee President Barack Obama's strategy against a growing Taliban insurgency.
Gates asked for the resignation of McKiernan less than a year into a command that normally would last 18 to 24 months.
The change in command comes amid worsening tension between Washington and Kabul over reports that scores of civilians died in US air raids in western Farah province last week.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai says as many as 130 civilians may have died in the incident and has demanded the United States halt air strikes. Without giving any figure, Washington says the death toll was probably lower and it cannot fight without relying on air power.
Syimak Herawi, a spokesman for Karzai, described the change of command as an administrative issue for the US government. But he said Afghans want progress on civilian casualties from the new commander, Army Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal.
"We expect the new person ... to pay serious attention to the issue of cutting down civilian casualties and air raids, because civilian deaths put under question the legitimacy of the government and the presence of foreign troops," he said.
Gates gave few details for the reasons behind the change.
The decision was almost certainly taken before the civilian deaths in Farah. According to US newspaper accounts, Gates told McKiernan he would be removed at a dinner in Kabul last week, even as reports about the Farah incident were still coming in.
But the appointment of a new commander does give the US and NATO force a chance to restart a relationship with its Afghan hosts that has become deeply strained over the civilian deaths.
Students marched at Kabul university over the weekend, chanting "Death to America."
Karzai, running for re-election in August, has shown no sign of backing down from his call to stop air strikes and the Afghan parliament on Monday pushed the government to come up with a plan within a week to place foreign forces under Afghan laws.
According to the United Nations, US and Afghan government forces killed more than 800 civilians last year, an increase of a third from the previous year.
McKiernan had ordered his forces to take steps to reduce civilian casualties and be more forthcoming with apologies when they take place. But that has proven difficult in an environment where a thinly stretched force is so heavily dependent on air power to protect it over vast distances.
The force is about to become much bigger. US troops will increase to 68,000 from 45,000 by the end of the year. Commanders expect heavy fighting, particularly in the south, in the next few months as the additional US troops deploy into areas controlled by the Taliban.
McChrystal, the director of the US military's Joint Staff, must be nominated by Obama and confirmed by the US Senate before he can take up the post.
The Taliban said McKiernan's removal was a result of US "failure" in Afghanistan.
"This is their policy. The war in Afghanistan and the current resistance forced them to change people when they see they are not winning," Qari Mohammad Yousuf, a Taliban spokesman said.
"It will be best for them (foreign forces) and for the Afghans if they leave."
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Weather bomb in pictures: Storms cuts power for tens of thousands – and snow is on the way
Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
Russell Brand was rendered speechless on Question Time by this man
Fury at Airbus after it hints the super-jumbo may be mothballed
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Exeter - An excellent opportunity for a Solici...
£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...
£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...
£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...