After months of denial, NATO admitted Sunday to five civilian casualties in a February raid – a major setback in the Afghanistan war effort to 'win hearts and minds.'
Arghandab Valley, Afghanistan
NATO forces in Afghanistan are facing new pressure on the “hearts and minds” front after they admitted Sunday to killing five civilians in a February assault and as Afghan President Hamid Karzai appeared to publicly undermine Western efforts here.
Currently on a visit with top US commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal to Kandahar, where NATO is planning a major summer offensive against the Taliban, Mr. Karzai promised local leaders on Sunday that “there won’t be an operation unless you are happy about it.”
On Monday, he canceled a planned trip to a frontline NATO base nearby – a move that would hurt morale among local government workers and residents, US officials said.
“Simply by not showing up today was a victory for the Taliban,” said a frustrated senior US official. “All he had to do was pick up the phone and say, ‘I’m sorry’ and the Afghans will forgive him, he’s good to go, he’s a hero still. Otherwise they will keep a grudge for years and years and years.”
Buildings had been decorated with fresh flowers and portraits of the president.
Before the trip south, Karzai had issued several criticisms of the international community’s role in Afghanistan. According to The New York Times, during a meeting with lawmakers in Kabul on Saturday, he reportedly warned that if foreign powers continued pressuring him, “I swear that I am going to join the Taliban.”