Afghanistan Seeks Changes In Western Troops Deal

Afghan President Hamid Karzai meets Thursday with President Bush and plans to push for major changes to the existing agreement on U.S. and other Western troops' operations in Afghanistan. The move comes as anger grows in Afghanistan over the number of civilian deaths at the hands of Western troops.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks at the United Nations later today where he'll urge the next U.S. president to send more money and equipment to Afghanistan. He wants to strengthen the Afghan army so it can fight the war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda on its own terms. President Karzai meets with President Bush tomorrow, and he'll also be asking for changes in the way the U.S. forces operate in Afghanistan. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports from Kabul.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Earlier this year at the Kandahar hospital, a patient named Habiba(ph) wept as she described an attack that wiped out much of her family.

HABIBA: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: Gesturing with heavily bandaged hands, Habiba says she was shot by American troops who arrived by helicopter at her family's compound. She says they used guns and bombs to kill her husband and teenage son, along with other relatives. Habiba wants to know why. She says the dead men where raisin farmers, not Taliban fighters, and that some of them were shot simply because they carried guns to protect their families. Her claims are impossible to verify. Habiba's village is one of many in hard-to-reach insurgent strongholds across Afghanistan. But what seems clear is that she is one of the hundreds of innocent victims of Western military operations in Afghanistan this year. Such casualties have raised Afghan anger toward U.S and NATO troops to unprecedented levels.

But President Karzai isn't going to Washington to complain. He and other Afghan officials meeting with their counterparts at the Pentagon and State Department want action. They're expected to ask for changes to the agreement governing Western forces in Afghanistan, a document that many here say is too vague and focuses on intentions rather than responsibilities. Foreign Ministry Spokesman Sultan Ahmed Baheen says there are three things the Afghan government wants. He says those demands became urgent after a U.S.-led attack on a village in western Afghanistan last month that, according to Afghan and U.N officials, left some 90 civilians dead.

Mr. SULTAN AHMED BAHEEN (Spokesman, Afghanistan Foreign Ministry) (Through Translator): We want future raids of homes to be conducted exclusively by Afghan forces. We want more sharing of intelligence. And we want Afghan officers to be in control of more military operations.

NELSON: Amrullah Saleh heads Afghanistan's intelligence service called the National Directorate of Security. He says Western military officials are good about communicating strategy, but he says there is not sufficient tactical coordination with the Afghan side.

Mr. AMRULLAH SALEH (Director General, National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan): By bringing in more Afghan participation and by bringing in more Afghan say in the operations, the viability of these operations, the success of these operations, will be further guaranteed, and the mistakes will be minimized.

NELSON: The Foreign Ministry's Baheen says officials also want Western forces to cut down on air strikes, which he says are more likely to cause civilian deaths. U.S officials in both Kabul and Washington declined to comment on the Afghan proposals. That the Afghans are pushing for more say in this war isn't just about civilian casualties, explains Paula Kantor who heads the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit in Kabul. She says it's also about the Afghan government exerting its independence by turning to the Afghan National Army to secure the country.

Dr. PAULA KANTOR (Director, Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit): The ANA is not strong enough necessarily to take the lead, but the other side of that is the international organizations' commitment to institution building in this country means that more efforts have to be made to include those institutions in operations, so that in time, yes, in everyone's interest, the ANA, the security forces, can take a lead.

NELSON: Some Afghan critics of Karzai say what he is seeking is too little, too late, like Nudal Hak Lumi(ph). He's a lawmaker from Kandahar who is a member of the parliament's defense commission.

Mr. NUDAL HAK LUMI(ph) (Afghan Lawmaker): (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: He says that Karzai should not only demand more accountability from the West, but that NATO should speed up its training and arming of Afghan security forces. He says that's because it should be Afghans and not foreigners who bring peace to their country. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Kabul.

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