Karzai in attack on terror war casualty rates

HAMID Karzai, the Afghan president, yesterday criticised the US-led coalition's anti-terror campaign, saying the deaths of hundreds of people, including Taleban militants, were unacceptable.

His sharp assessment came as Osama bin Laden's deputy urged Afghans to revolt against coalition forces, and four more US soldiers were killed.

More than four years after US-led forces toppled the extremist Taleban government, the country is gripped by its deadliest spate of post-invasion violence. To try to curb the bloodshed, more than 10,000 coalition forces - including British troops - have launched their largest offensive against militants across southern Afghanistan.

More than 600 people, mainly militants, have been killed since May.

But Mr Karzai, who has previously scorned large-scale anti-militant campaigns, rejected the continued spilling of Afghan blood in military operations.

"It is not acceptable for us that in all this fighting, Afghans are dying. In the last three to four weeks, 500 to 600 Afghans were killed. [Even] if they are Taleban, they are sons of this land," a clearly frustrated Mr Karzai told reporters.

Mr Karzai said the current focus on hunting Taleban militants did not address terrorism's root causes.

"We must engage strategically in disarming terrorism by stopping the sources of supply of money, training, equipment and motivation," he said.

He also said the war on terror needs to be broadened outside Afghan borders.

"We are concerned about the increase of attacks in our country," he said.

"Some of the reasons are the internal weakness of administration in our country, but most of the factors are foreign factors, terrorism and organised attacks."

He did not elaborate on which "foreign factors" were involved, but many Afghan officials have accused neighbouring Pakistan of doing too little to catch Taleban militants planning attacks from Pakistan. Pakistan denies the claims.

Mr Karzai said Afghanistan had received considerable help in reconstruction fields, but had not been given the help needed to strengthen its police force, army and government administration.

"This is one of the reasons for the unhappiness between us and the international community," he said.

"We did not get the assistance and co- operation that is necessary for a strategy for counter-terrorism."

A February donors' conference in London pledged $10.5 billion (5.67 billion) in new aid for Afghanistan - most for improving security. About 37,000 new soldiers and more than 50,000 police have been trained but many more are needed.

More than 1,000 people have been killed in Afghanistan this year, the worst violence since the 2001 overthrow of the Taleban. The violence has surged as NATO prepares to take over security duties from US-led forces in the south, the rebel heartland.

Hours before Mr Karzai's comments, al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahri released a new tape - his sixth this year - calling on Afghans to rise up against coalition forces across the country.

"I am calling upon the Muslims in Kabul in particular and in all Afghanistan in general and for the sake of God to stand up in an honest stand in the face of the infidel forces that are invading Muslim lands," he said.

The tape, entitled American Crimes in Kabul, was apparently made the day after a 29 May accident in which a US military lorry crashed into traffic in the Afghan capital, killing up to five people. The incident sparked anti-foreigner riots that left about 20 people dead - the deadliest unrest here since the Taleban's 2001 ousting.

"I direct my speech today to my Muslim brothers in Kabul who lived the bitter events yesterday and saw by their own eyes a new proof of the criminal acts of the American forces against the Afghan people," al-Zawahri said on the tape, which was posted on an Islamist website.

Unlike al-Zawahri's previous messages, which appeared aimed at Americans, the latest video had no English subtitles. He spoke in Arabic, and websites carried translations in Pashtun and Farsi, two languages widely spoken in Afghanistan.

Asked about the tape, Mr Karzai blamed al-Zawahri for Afghanistan's massive suffering before and after the 11 September, 2001, attacks on the US and vowed to arrest him.

"He is first the enemy of the Afghan people, and then the enemy of the rest of the world," Mr Karzai said.

"He killed Afghans for years - thousands - and then he went to America and destroyed the Twin Towers."

In renewed violence, four US soldiers were killed and another wounded yesterday while trying to block the movement of enemy forces in the eastern Nuristan province.

Ground troops and attack planes were called in to continue the assault. It was unclear if there were any enemy casualties.

Mohammad Hanif, a Taleban spokesman, said by telephone from an undisclosed location that two Taleban had been killed in the fighting.

Late on Wednesday, militants also bombed two coalition convoys in southern Afghanistan, killing one civilian bystander and wounding 13 people, including six Canadian soldiers, the military said.

US-led forces and government troops have stepped up attacks against the Taleban in Nuristan in recent weeks as part of an operation, codenamed Mountain Lion, launched in mid-April.

The Taleban are mostly active in eastern and southern parts of Afghanistan, bordering Pakistan, where they enjoy considerable support among the Pashtun tribes living on both sides of the long, porous border.

Al-Zawahri and the al-Qaeda leader bin Laden, who were hosted by the Taleban before their ousting, are now believed to be hiding in the rugged border region.

Meanwhile, Afghan and coalition forces last night raided a Taleban compound in southern Afghanistan, killing eight insurgents.

The raid took place at a "known enemy compound" north-west of Tirin Kot, the capital of Uruzgan province, a military statement said.

Another six militants were captured and detained for questioning, according to the statement.

The compound in the Bagh-e Yosof village had been used as a "meeting place and sanctuary" for Taleban fighters who created roadside bombs and co-ordinated attacks against local people, the statement said.

A search of the compound yielded a weapons cache, including AK-47s, rocket propelled grenades and two machine guns.

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