Karzai To NATO: "Afghan Life Not Cheap"

An Afghan soldier holds his RPG rocket during a Afghan National Army humanitarian aid distribution in the Andar district of Ghazni province, west of Kabul, Afghanistan on Friday, June 22, 2007.
AP Photo/Musadeq Sadeq
President Hamid Karzai accused NATO and U.S.-led troops Saturday of carelessly killing scores of Afghan civilians and warned that the fight against resurgent Taliban militants could fail unless foreign forces show more restraint.

"Afghan life is not cheap and it should not be treated as such," Karzai said in an angry rebuke that drew a contrite acknowledgment from NATO that it must "do better."

In the past 10 days, more than 90 civilians have been killed by air strikes and artillery fire targeting Taliban insurgents, Karzai said. The mounting toll is sapping the authority of the Western-backed Afghan president, who has pleaded repeatedly with U.S. and NATO commanders to consult Afghan authorities during operations and show more restraint.

"Several times in the last year, the Afghan government tried to prevent civilian casualties, but our innocent people are becoming victims of careless operations of NATO and international forces," Karzai said at a news conference in his Kabul palace.

The casualties listed by Karzai bring the number of civilians killed in NATO or U.S.-led military operations this year to 211, according to an Associated Press tally of figures provided by Afghan and foreign officials and witnesses.

That tops the 172 civilians killed in militant attacks.

"If NATO forces want to be successful in their fight against terrorism and in bringing security to Afghanistan, they should coordinate with the Afghan government, no matter if the operation is small or big," Karzai said in a mixture of English and his native Pashto.

NATO's International Security Assistance Force responded contritely.

"President Karzai has a right to be disappointed and angry over the scale of civilian casualties in the last few days," ISAF spokesman Nick Lunt said. "We need to do better than we have been doing so far."

Foreign commanders insist they take great care to avoid civilian deaths while trying to beat back the Taliban so that Karzai's frail government can deliver services to the impoverished south and east.

Both U.S. and NATO forces, however, rely heavily on devastating air power. That helps minimize foreign troop casualties while inflicting heavy losses on militants — but also regularly harms innocents.