CHARIKAR: A scandal over civilian deaths in a recent US airstrike is a stark reminder of how the Afghan war is raging just a short drive from Kabul, with a NATO-Afghan offensive failing to recapture districts under Taliban control.
The operation earlier this month to flush out the insurgents in Parwan province — near the capital´s northern outskirts — left 12 civilians dead including women and children, according to the Afghan government.
Two days after the airstrike the Taliban launched a suicide attack on a restaurant in Kabul killing 21 people, including 13 foreigners, in a massacre that drew worldwide condemnation and underlined the increasing threat to the capital itself.
A Taliban spokesman said the attack was to avenge the airstrike. The political fallout from the anti-Taliban operation in Siagerd district has focused attention on how close the war is to Kabul as NATO´s combat mission winds down this year — forcing Afghanistan to rely on its army and police to thwart the insurgency.
The provincial governor told AFP that strongholds of Al-Qaeda-linked Taliban militants survived the intense 24-hour ground and air attack, and that it was too dangerous to hold April´s presidential election in some areas.
“There have been military operations last year and again this month, but there has not been an operation to decisively rout the Taliban,” governor Basir Salangi said at his fortified headquarters an hour´s drive north of Kabul. “There are two districts where militants go to seek safety,” he said. “The security has got worse in the last three years due to the Taliban coming from Pakistan.
“In an attempt to clear out the insurgents, a joint military operation involving US special forces was launched at dawn on January 15. The NATO mission admits several civilians were killed, while an investigation team sent by Afghan President Hamid Karzai reported that 12 civilians died, including women and children. The deaths escalated tensions between Afghanistan and the United States, with Karzai already at loggerheads with Washington over a security agreement to allow some US troops to remain in the country after this year.
Karzai has regularly demanded that the US halt airstrikes and has used the Parwan deaths to again demand an end to all US military action in residential areas before he considers signing the bilateral security agreement.