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Governor Says Afghan Presidential Report On Civilian Casualties Is Misleading

Afghanistan -- A boy walks past a burnt fuel tanker in Parwan province.
A senior Afghan official has rejected a recent government fact-finding report that prompted President Hamid Karzai to blame U.S. forces for killing civilians.

Abdul Basir Salangi, governor of the eastern province of Parwan, told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that an investigative report by a presidentially appointed commission into allegations that international forces recently killed civilians in the province is misleading.

Salangi said that commission members failed to visit a remote village in Parwan's Siyah Gard district where they alleged that 12 civilians were killed and a number of houses were destroyed in a U.S. military operation on January 15.

Wrong information was presented to the president."
"They have not been to the area to talk to locals to dig out truth," he said. "Only six civilians were killed in Siyah Gard. But the investigation also counted the six militants killed there as civilians."

The report’s findings about damages to property is also wrong, he said. "They have also reported that several houses were torched, which is not true. Only one house was destroyed. Wrong information was presented to the president."

​The report prompted Karzai to condemn the international military operation in Parwan in a strongly worded statement on January 19. "The people of Afghanistan are killed daily in the name of the 'war on terrorism' by foreign forces," the statement read. "Afghans are also being killed in Taliban terrorist attacks on the pretext of fighting foreign military presence in Afghanistan."

President Hamid Karzai salutes as he leaves the opening ceremony of a private media company in Kabul, January 21, 2014
President Hamid Karzai salutes as he leaves the opening ceremony of a private media company in Kabul, January 21, 2014
Salangi says that the Wazghar Valley in Siyah Gard district had turned into a Taliban enclave. The January 15 operation was aimed at clearing the region of insurgents.

He said that the operation resulted in the death of regional Taliban commander Abdul Rahman, who was behind many attacks on Afghan and international forces. "It delivered a strong blow to the insurgents and, unfortunately, caused some casualties to civilians living in the area."

His claims were backed by an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) statement on January 19. It said that the operation was requested by Afghan officials and "was a deliberate clearing operation to disrupt insurgent activity, based on intelligence obtained primarily by Afghan forces."

ISAF said that a team of more than 70 Afghan commandos and a few US Special Operations Forces members called in "defensive air support" after insurgents firing from two compounds killed an Afghan and an ISAF soldier. It said that the airstrike killed at least 14 insurgents. "Tragically, civilians inside a building from which insurgents were firing on the commandos were killed."

ISAF said that the trapped troops had no alternative. "At that point, the ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces] and coalition advisers were unable to maneuver or withdraw without sustaining significant casualties."

Some lawmakers from Parwan have also disputed the presidential report. Mir Rahman Rahmani, a member of the lower house of the Afghan parliament, told Radio Free Afghanistan that the report was written to strengthen Karzai's hand in negotiations with Washington. The Afghan leader has repeatedly called for an end to coalition military raids as a precondition for signing the Bilateral Security Agreement, which would allow U.S. troops to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2014.

"This commission was politically motivated. They never went to Parwan to uncover the truth," Rahmani said. "They should make public the names of the 12 civilians they claimed were killed in an airstrike and let our security institutions establish whether they were civilians."

Rahmani said that everyone killed in the operation was inside the two houses from which insurgents fired on Afghan and international forces. "Karzai backs anyone who is anti-American," he said.

But Haji Iqbal Safi, a member of the commission, rejects the notion that Karzai is using the Parwan attack to whip up anti-American sentiment. "For the past few years President Karzai has been consistent in demanding an end to Afghan civilian casualties."

The controversy over civilian casualties in Parwan is likely to contribute to disagreements over the long-term strategic agreement between Kabul and Washington.

Supporters argue the deal, backed by an Afghan tribal council, is vital for ensuring Afghanistan's peaceful future. But Karzai has warned of "anarchy" and renewed fighting if the deal is signed before the end of coalition military operations and the beginning of a comprehensive peace process.