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Pentagon disputes reports of 90 Afghan civilians killed in US airstrike

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CNN reports that the Afghan government condemned the attack, with Humayun Hamidzada, a spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, saying that "The Afghan people and the Afghan government have lost their patience."

"We cannot see our children being killed in our villages or the killing of innocent people, and our hope and strong request is to reach a new agreement with the international community which clarifies all the conditions, so that in the future, the fight against terrorism should happen in the boundary of law, so that civilians are not affected," he said.

The Washington Post writes that the rising civilian toll, highlighted by last week's incident, has spurred Mr. Karzai to publicly call for a review of foreign troops operating within Afghanistan, as well as a formal status-of-forces agreement along the lines of one being negotiated in Iraq. But "the prospect of codifying the ad hoc rules under which U.S. forces have operated in Afghanistan since late 2001 sends shudders through the Bush administration."

The Afghan government "is not the most streamlined and efficient system," [an anonymous US official] said. "So you'd have a multiplicity of players on that side."
Less diplomatic U.S. officials frequently describe elements of Karzai's government as deeply corrupt and incompetent. Although most civilian war deaths in Afghanistan are caused by Taliban forces, those resulting from the highly visible airstrikes are a particular cause of public outrage that neither Karzai nor the administration can afford to ignore.
The other side of the equation is even more complicated. Of the 33,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, 19,000 operate under U.S. Central Command, while 14,000 form the largest single component of a 40-nation force led by NATO under a U.N. resolution.
The disparate command structures have frustrated every government involved in the effort, but according to Afghan officials, they have also allowed diffused responsibility for civilian casualties, such as those of last week in the western part of the country. U.S. forces operate up to 90 percent of all strike aircraft in the country, and it is rarely clear whether an individual strike has been conducted as part of a NATO or U.S. operation.
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