“We can no longer accept civilian casualties. It is becoming a heavy burden,” Karzai told reporters in Kabul, when asked about the killings. “It has become too hard for us.”
Karzai’s statement to U.S., NATO and European Union officials came after reports of the deaths of 51 villagers in western Afghanistan during a U.S.-led raid on the Taliban. While the U.S. military said it had no reports of civilian casualties, local officials have claimed women and children were killed.
Across Afghanistan, as many as 60 civilians were killed as a result of U.S. military raids over the past week, Reuters reported.
According to a statement from his office, Karzai told officials that “civilian deaths and arbitrary decisions to search people’s houses have reached an unacceptable level, and Afghans cannot put up with it any longer,” reported the Associated Press.
The U.S.-led military coalition said that an operation last weekend in Herat, a western province, killed 136 suspected Taliban militants. Since then, provincial leaders who toured the area have described mass civilian deaths, with bodies of women and children buried in three locations — and no militants among the dead.
The military operation resulted in anti-U.S. protests among villagers, adding to a student-staged uprising in eastern Afghanistan over civilian deaths there. The operation in Herat was among the deadliest fighting in Afghanistan since January.
“The intention is very good in these operations to fight terrorism. Sometimes mistakes have been made as well, but five years on, it is very difficult for us to continue to accept civilian casualties,” Karzai said at a news conference, the AP reported.
Italy’s foreign minister, whose nation’s forces head the NATO mission in Herat, warned the international effort to combat the Taliban would be threatened if civilian casualties continued to mount.
“We cannot hide that the ways in which this operation was conducted, which have caused strong protests among the local populations … constitute a source of major concern for Italy and the other countries involved in Afghanistan,” Reuters quoted Massimo D’Alema as saying.
“We risk losing the support of the local population,” he added.
Not including the latest disputed numbers in Herat, an AP tally counts 151 civilian deaths caused by violence so far this year. At least 51 of the deaths are blamed on NATO and the U.S.-led coalition.