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Afghan cabinet demands review of international presence
25. August 2008, 14:40

By Sardar Ahmad, AFP
The Afghan cabinet demanded Monday a renegotiation of agreements regulating the presence of international troops in Afghanistan after more than 90 civilians were killed in US-led air strikes.

The cabinet said the review should focus on the "authorities and responsibilities" of international troops and demand a halt to air strikes on civilians, illegal detentions and unilateral house searches, a statement said.

A government commission said Sunday that more than 90 civilians, most of them women and children, were killed in air strikes in the western province of Herat on Friday.

It is one of the deadliest civilian tolls in international military action since US-led forces invaded in 2001 to topple the hardline Taliban regime after it did not hand over its Al-Qaeda allies for attacks on the United States.

The US-led coalition says Friday's strikes were targeted at Taliban rebels and 30 of them were killed, although it is investigating claims of civilian casualties.

"We continue at this point to believe that this was a legitimate strike against the Taliban," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said Monday.

But he declined to comment on the Afghan cabinet's demand for a renegotiation of agreements.

The regular Monday cabinet meeting expressed "extreme sorrow for loss of so many civilian lives" in a string of incidents caused by troops in various provinces, said an official translation of an earlier Dari-language statement.

A resolution adopted by the ministers said they had tasked the foreign and defence ministries with negotiating with "officials of international forces."

"The presence of the international community in Afghanistan must be reviewed through a mutual agreement," it said.

"The authorities and responsibilities of the international forces in Afghanistan must be regulated through a 'status of force agreement' consistent with both international and Afghan laws," it added.

And, "air strikes on civilian targets, uncoordinated house searches and illegal detention of Afghan civilians must be stopped."

But NATO said Monday it had not been informed of any Afghan plan to renegotiate agreements on the presence of foreign troops.

Spokeswoman Carmen Romero underlined that the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) "is in Afghanistan on the basis of a United Nations mandate and has been invited there by the government of Afghanistan."

There are now nearly 70,000 international soldiers from around 40 countries in Afghanistan to fight a Taliban-led insurgency and help bring security.

About 53,000 are with the ISAF, mandated by the United Nations with a resolution extended annually since 2003 that says it should assist the Afghan government in maintaining security.

The deal is due to be extended in October.

The remainder are with the US-led coalition, under the banner of Operation Enduring Freedom, which unseated the Taliban.

A May 2005 bilateral agreement between the United States and Afghanistan outlines the coalition's operations including counter-terrorism operations, intelligence sharing and training the Afghan security forces.

There has been growing anger in Afghanistan about the number of civilians being killed in insurgency-linked violence.

The country's top rights group, Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, said last week that 900 civilians have been killed this year in attacks and international military action.

In another incident, an Afghan investigation found that around 50 civilians, most of them women, were killed in coalition air strikes in early July when they had gathered for a wedding in the eastern province of Nangarhar.

The coalition has however not acknowledged killing any civilians, saying the strikes hit militants.

The cabinet statement said the government had "repeatedly" discussed with international troops the issue of civilian casualties in raids and the "harassing" of ordinary people.

"Unfortunately, to date, our demands have not been addressed, rather, more civilians, including women and children, are losing their lives as a result of air raids," it said.

President Hamid Karzai, who on Sunday sacked two senior army officers over the Herat killings, told legislators Monday about the cabinet's resolution and asked for "national consensus" on the issue, a separate statement said.

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