Karzai urges US to prevent civilian deaths

President Hamid Karzai said Tuesday that the U.S. and other Western military allies have not heeded his calls to stop airstrikes in civilian areas in Afghanistan, warning that the fight against militants cannot be won without popular support from Afghans, AP reported.

Addressing parliament at its opening session, Karzai urged the U.S. to follow a new military strategy in Afghanistan that would increase cooperation with Afghan forces and officials to prevent civilian casualties.

Karzai said his government sent a letter to the NATO-led command in Kabul two weeks ago complaining about civilian casualties, arrests and house-searches. It was the fourth such letter sent to Western military leaders in Afghanistan.

Karzai's continued return to the theme, suggesting that efforts by NATO and the U.S. to stem such killings have not satisfied the Afghan government.

U.S. and NATO-led troops say militants deliberately use civilians as human shields in their fight against foreign and Afghan troops, and there have been multiple disputes over whether some of those killed in operations were civilians or militants.

The latest dispute arose two weeks ago, when the U.S. military said its troops killed 32 militants in the eastern province of Nangarhar, while Karzai said 17 of those killed were civilians.

"We will not accept civilian casualties on our soil during the fight against terrorism and we cannot tolerate it," Karzai said.

"For years the Afghan people have come to me and said, 'We are allies and we are committed to fighting terrorism and we welcomed the international community in Afghanistan - why are we the victims of the airstrikes?'" Karzai said.

The civilian deaths undermine Karzai's support ahead of his re-election bid this year. They also sap the support that foreign troops need to help the government extend its reach across the country.

U.S. Gen. David McKiernan, the commanding officer of all NATO and U.S. troops in Afghanistan, issued a directive to troops in September meant to reduce the number of casualties. Commanders have said they are advising troops to break off a battle with militants rather than risk firing into a civilian area and harming ordinary Afghans.

Violence has been rising across Afghanistan the last three years. The U.S. has said it will send up to 30,000 new troops into Afghanistan in 2009, including some 3,000 forces in two provinces adjacent to Kabul, where militants now have free rein.

They will be joining some 33,000 U.S. troops already there who serve alongside 32,000 other NATO-led and coalition troops - the highest number since the U.S.-led invasion that ousted the Taliban from power in 2001.

In latest violence in the country, U.S. coalition troops used hand grenades and airstrikes in a series of clashes across Afghanistan, killing 22 militants and detaining 11 others, a statement said Tuesday.

In an operation 30 miles (50 kilometers) north of Kabul, troops killed a Taliban commander and 18 of his fighters during a clash Monday in Tagab Valley in Kapisa province, the coalition statement said.

The coalition identified the dead commander as Mullah Patang and alleged that he carried out orders from senior Taliban leaders in Afghanistan and abroad, a term that would typically refer to Pakistan. The coalition forces called in airstrikes during the battle.

French and U.S. forces operate in Kapisa, but the coalition did not say who carried out the operation.

Separately, troops used hand grenades to kill a second Taliban commander, Mullah Abdul Rahim Akhund, and another militant in Panjwayi district of southern Kandahar province.

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