Karzai says U.S. drone strike killed 2-year-old

The Washington Post

Afghan President Hamid Karzai accused the United States of launching a drone strike that killed a 2-year-old child Thursday and vowed to not sign a long-term security agreement if similar attacks continue.

In a statement, Karzai said a suspected U.S. “pilot-less aircraft” fired into a house shortly before noon in Helmand province, killing the child and wounding two women. He said the information was relayed to him by Mohammad Naem, the governor of the province.

Spokesmen for the U.S.-led coalition did not respond to requests for comment. The U.S. Embassy in Kabul referred questions to the international coalition.

Although few details were available Thursday night, the allegations are likely to stoke tension over Karzai’s reluctance to endorse a plan that would allow several thousand U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan after 2014.

After a year of negotiations, the Obama administration thought it had finalized an agreement with Karzai last week to allow up to 15,000 foreign troops to stay in Afghanistan to train and assist its military.

But Karzai has been reluctant to sign it, saying he first wants assurances that the United States won’t meddle in Afghan elections next year, will cease military raids on Afghan homes and will help start peace talks between Karzai’s government and Taliban insurgents. For the latter, he has demanded that the United States release 17 Afghan prisoners from the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Now Karzai has added a reduction of U.S. airstrikes to his list of demands.

“This attack shows that American forces are not respecting the life and safety of Afghan people’s houses,” he said in the statement. He added, “For years, our innocent people have become victims of the war under the name of terrorism, and they have had no safety in their homes.”

Karzai said that he will not sign the security agreement if such “oppressions by foreign forces continue.”

It was unclear from his statement whether he was calling for an end of all drone strikes or just those attacks that target Afghans’ homes.

The alleged death of the child comes one week after Karzai accused U.S. special forces of killing two Afghan civilians during a raid on a house in eastern Afghanistan. Karzai’s assertion angered coalition commanders, who insisted that the men were “armed insurgents.” They accused Karzai of using “allegations of civilian deaths for political purposes.”

But Karzai cited the incident as justification for his decision to delay the signing of the agreement. During a meeting Monday with U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice, Karzai demanded that American troops immediately stop entering the homes of Afghan citizens, his spokesman said.

The Obama administration responded by saying that if the agreement is not signed by the end of the year, it will have no choice but to begin preparing for a full withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan next year.

“It’s not something that we want to foresee or want to pursue,” U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham told Afghan reporters Wednesday. But, he added, “it could be a consequence of decisions that your government takes or doesn’t take.”

Karzai’s stance has befuddled Western analysts, and is a growing concern for many Afghan political leaders, who believe Karzai is endangering Afghanistan’s security because the agreement includes $4 billion in annual U.S. and coalition funding for the Afghan military.

On Sunday, a council of 2,500 Afghan tribal leaders and civic activists endorsed the agreement and called on Karzai to quickly sign it. In his statement Thursday, Karzai accused the United States of undermining the spirit of that gathering by launching the airstrike that he said killed a child.