Civilian Casualties Mounting in U.S. Drone Strikes (3 articles)
1. Afghan Leader Questions U.S. Military Operations
The New York Times, March 12, 2011
President Hamid Karzai on Saturday appeared to call for NATO and the United States to cease military operations in Afghanistan, but then issued a clarification saying that he was referring only to specific operations that had caused civilian casualties.
In an emotional speech on Saturday in the eastern city of Asadabad, in Kunar Province, the Afghan president told relatives and neighbors of civilian victims that he sympathized with their plight. “With great honor and with great respect, and humbly rather than with arrogance, I request that NATO and America should stop these operations on our soil,” he said. “This war is not on our soil. If this war is against terror, then this war is not here, terror is not here.”
Mr. Karzai’s remarks were made at a memorial service for the victims, in the presence of local officials as well as the second highest ranking American general in Afghanistan, David M. Rodriguez. “Our demand is that this war should be stopped,” Mr. Karzai said. “This is the voice of Afghanistan.”
Whether his remarks were premeditated, taken out of context or just an emotional overstatement, his speech was another symptom of a deteriorating relationship between the Afghan president and the United States military command.
American officials were angered by Mr. Karzai’s remarks, said one official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the dispute with the Afghan president. Officially, NATO refrained from any direct response. But a spokesman, who said he could speak only on the condition of anonymity because of orders from superior officers, said the NATO force in Afghanistan “shares President Karzai’s concern about civilian casualties, and we will continue working to reduce civilian casualties to an absolute minimum.”
A few hours after the speech, Mr. Karzai’s spokesman, Waheed Omer, said the president’s remarks had been in the context of two recent cases of civilian casualties in Kunar Province, one of which NATO conceded had killed nine children in error. In the other case, Afghan officials maintained that 65 civilians had been killed, but NATO officials still insist the victims were insurgents, although an investigation is under way.
The president had meant that such operations leading to civilian deaths should be stopped, Mr. Omer said. “Civilian casualties have been a great source of concern to the president and people of Afghanistan and a big reason behind the current disagreements between our government and the international forces,” Mr. Omer said in a statement, which he described as a “clarification” of the speech.
“Afghans have lost their patience and cannot tolerate irresponsible operations that result in civilians’ losing their lives,” Mr. Omer said.
The speech was made after Mr. Karzai visited survivors of the air raids in Kunar. When he was shown a 1-year-old child whose leg had to be amputated, he wept openly, along with many in the crowd around him.
Later Saturday, Mr. Karzai’s office issued a video recording of his speech that officials said showed he had not called for an end to NATO’s operations in Afghanistan. The segment calling for that was followed by, “Yes, we do want friendship with them; we do want the strategic relationship from them, whatever they want from us we are ready.”
The recording ended after that, and included only five minutes of a half-hour-long speech that was strongly critical of Afghanistan’s coalition allies.
A statement from NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, although issued in response to Mr. Karzai’s speech, made no direct reference to it.
Although civilian deaths in Afghanistan increased last year to 2,777, or a 15 percent increase, three-fourths were caused by the insurgents rather than coalition forces, according to a recent United Nations report on protection of civilians. (Would those three-fourths have occurred without the presence of NATO forces? -PR)
The most recent case took the life of the president’s cousin, who was shot in the house of his uncle during a night raid in the village of Karz in Kandahar Province.
2. US drone misses target in NW Pakistan
AFP, March 13, 2011
A US drone strike in a troubled Pakistani tribal region near the Afghan border on Sunday missed its target — a militant vehicle– allowing rebels to flee, local security officials said…
…He said that identity of militants on board the vehicle was unknown.
The United States does not confirm drone attacks, but its military and its Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operating in Afghanistan are the only forces that deploy them in the region.
The covert US strikes cause anti-American hostility among the Pakistani public, who see foreign military action on Pakistani soil as a violation of national sovereignty.
Missile attacks doubled in the tribal areas last year as the campaign was stepped up, with more than 100 drone strikes killing over 670 people in 2010 compared with 45 strikes that killed 420 in 2009, according to an AFP tally.
3. 4 killed in U.S. drone strike in Pakistan
People’s Daily Online, March 13, 2011
At least four people were killed in a U.S drone strike launched Sunday morning in Pakistan’s northwest tribal area of South Waziristan…
…Sunday’s strike is the 19th of its kind since this year. To date, a total of 92 people have reportedly been killed in such strikes.
The frequency of the U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan has apparently abated following the January 27 incident in which an American named Raymond Davis killed two Pakistanis in the country’ s eastern city of Lahore in a bid to avoid further fueling the anti-American sentiment in the country.
However, since a local court in Pakistan has refused the request by the U.S. side to release Raymond Davis under the name of diplomatic immunity, the U.S. side has resumed its drone strikes in Pakistan’s northwest tribal areas which border Afghanistan as militants hiding in the areas often launch attacks at the U.S.-led NATO troops in Afghanistan across the Pakistani side.
Despite the violation of its territorial rights, the Pakistani government has turned a closed eye on the U.S. drone strikes.