Afghan lawmakers urge ceasefire, talks with Taliban
Amid claims of mounting civilian deaths, including an official tally of 21 civilians killed in a US-led airstrike, the upper house of Afghanistan's legislature passed a motion Tuesday calling for a military ceasefire and negotiations with the Taliban.
The Associated Press writes that NATO called the resolution, which requires passage by the lower house and approval of the president to become law, a "warning shot."
The proposal from the upper house of parliament, which also calls for a date to be set for the withdrawal of foreign troops, suggests that Afghan support for the 5-year international military mission is crumbling amid a series of civilian deaths.
The motion reflects lawmakers' belief that negotiations with militants would be more effective than fighting, said Aminuddin Muzafari, the secretary of the upper house.
"One of the reasons I want this bill implemented is because of the civilian deaths caused by both the enemy and international forces," said Abdul Ahmad Zahidi, a parliamentarian from Ghazni province. "It's difficult to prevent civilian deaths when the Taliban go inside the homes of local people. How can you prevent casualties then? You can't."
News of the resolution transpired amid reports that, during a battle between US Special Forces and Taliban fighters in Afghanistan's Helmand province Tuesday, a US airstrike killed 21 civilians, including several women and children, according to local officials. One coalition soldier also died.
The New York Times describes Tuesday's 16-hour battle in the village of Sarban Qala, near Sangin in Helmand Province.
During the battle on Tuesday, Afghan National Army troops accompanied by American Special Forces encountered more than 200 well-armed Taliban on a ridge during a patrol 15 miles northeast of Sangin, the United States military said in a statement from Bagram Air Base. The airstrikes were called in to destroy what Sgt. Dean Welch, a spokesman for the American command at the base, said were three compounds and an underground tunnel network.
"We understand there are reports of civilian casualties but don't have any confirmed reports," Sergeant Welch said, adding that an investigation would be started if reports of civilian deaths are confirmed.
The Times notes that the US Special Forces unit was one that operates independently of NATO.
According to Reuters, witnesses say that the strike killed 40 civilians. The news service also notes that Assadullah Wafa, the governor of Helmand province, blames Taliban fighters for hiding in the homes of civilians.
News of the airstrike comes a day after Col. John Nicholson, an Army commander, apologized to the families of 69 civilians killed or wounded by marines in March. The Washington Post notes that the killings, which occurred after a suicide attack on a marine convoy near Jalalabad, strained US-Afghan relations.
The incident – which resulted in the largest number of civilian deaths from a single U.S. action in the country since the war began – raised significant ire within Afghan communities in the region. U.S. commanders quickly removed the Marine company from Afghanistan after the incident because of the tensions it could have caused among the local population. Maj. Gen. Frank H. Kearney III, who heads the Special Operations Central Command, ordered an investigation.
"The people are the center of gravity here, so, first and foremost in all that we do, we seek to do no harm to the people," Nicholson said. "So events such as that do set us back with the population, and they have to be addressed very directly and forthrightly with the Afghan people."
The BBC reports that claims of mounting civilian deaths have angered Afghan president Hamid Karzai, who summoned foreign military leaders to Kabul to "express his displeasure."
"The president told Nato and coalition commanders that the patience of the Afghan people is wearing thin with the continued killing of innocent civilians," a statement from his office said.
"Civilian deaths and arbitrary decisions to search people's houses have reached an unacceptable level and Afghans cannot put up with it any longer.
Mr Karzai told journalists that civilian deaths would bring "bad consequences".
"It is becoming a heavy burden and we are not happy about it.
"I hope the international community will find with us, with our relevant ministries, a mechanism that will bring an end to collateral damage, to damage to civilians."
The BBC notes that about 1,000 civilians were killed in Afghanistan last year. There are no official tallies of the total number of civilian deaths in the five-year conflict.