Afghan president slams civilian deaths | Connect Asia

Afghan president slams civilian deaths

Afghan president slams civilian deaths

Updated 18 January 2012, 16:20 AEDT

Fourteen people - 12 of them children - have been killed in the south of Afghanistan in a suspected NATO air strike.

A spokesman for NATO said a team had been sent to Helmand province to investigate the attack.

The news comes after Afghanistan's powerful and controversial police commander for the the north, General Mohammed Daoud Daoud was killed in a suicide bomb attack at the weekend, which also killed two German soldiers. Among the wounded was General Marcus Kneip, the German commander of the NATO forces in northern Afghanistan. General Daoud had been playing a critical role as Afghan troops prepare to take over from the international forces in key cities this year. A suicide bomber attacked the provincial governor's compound in Takhar in north Afghanistan, apparently wearing a police uniform and getting through several checkpoints as a senior level security meeting took place.

Presenter: Liam Cochrane

Speaker: Rasphal Khosa, research fellow at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute

KHOSA: I believe the strike took place after a US base in Nauzad province took fire and a close, what we call CAS, a close air support platform, was directed and it resulted apparently in the deaths of a number of civilians. Significant amongst them were a great number of children, so this is a very egregious incident. Civilian casualties are the most significant problem in Afghanistan's propaganda war. But it must be remembered that 75 per cent of them are attributed to insurgent initiated action and quite often it's with a view to provoking just this sort of incident.

COCHRANE: As we heard in the news, President Hamid Kharzai has responded furiously saying this is the last warning about these strikes which kill Afghan civilians. Does he have much power to stop these kinds of incidents happening?

KHOSA: Well look, certainly I say NATO has to work closely with the Afghan government. They are there really as guests of the Afghans, and it is well known within NATO circles how problematic it is if you have these sorts of situations taking place. There are a number of directives from Commander Hasaf, that's General David Petraeus, that are in place to prevent this sort of thing. What he really calls for is tactical patience or courageous restraint if you like, but at the same time, it must be recognised that troops are allowed to call for these measures if they're under significant insurgent threat.

COCHRANE: Well, let's turn the focus now to General Daoud Daoud. What can you tell us about his background?

KHOSA: General Mohammed Daoud Daoud was a significant player within the former Northern Alliance that was fighting against the Taliban prior to 2001. He was a close confidant of Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was murdered by the Taliban I gather in the same province where the latest situation took place, that's Takhar, up in the north. Daoud Daoud was a former deputy Interior Minister responsible for counter-narcotics. He's regarded as a very capable player. He was responsible for all the Ministry of Interior forces within northern Afghanistan, regional command north. These include various police forces, but also NDS - National Directorate of Security forces that also fall under the Ministry of the Interior. So his death is a significant blow and certainly with regards to the transition time frame, it is also problematic. The city of Mazar-e-Sharif was one of the areas that was meant to be transitioned starting in July of this year.

COCHRANE: And the area where the attack took place, I understand, is being considered more secure than others. Do you think this will significantly slow down the handover of security operations to local forces?

KHOSA: Look, I don't think it will. The north is more secure and so is the west when you compare it to the situation in the south and the east of the country. But the Taliban strategy, and certainly the strategy this fighting season, is to expand their operations into northern and western Afghanistan, to distract NATO forces. But it's a Pashtun insurgency and there's not a lot of Pashtun's in the north and the west. There are relic communities in places like Kunduz, and for them to conduct an insurgency they really need support from the local people. So what they're really doing in the north and the west is carrying out these sorts of spectacular attacks to create an impression of deteriorating security and obviously General Daoud Daoud was a key target. Part of the Taliban campaign is also targeted assassinations and intimidation of people within particular areas, but certainly those districts that are to undergo transition.

COCHRANE: What's the strategy behind the Taliban starting to target or increasing their targeting of senior Afghan officials?

KHOSA: Not just senior Afghan officials, but really anyone that deals with the Afghan government or ISAF. The Taliban have been really stopped in their tracks, I mean in terms of the initiative is now really in the hands of NATO, ISAF. The Taliban's momentum has been arrested and in fact reversed in certain areas. What the Taliban really are trying to do is regain influence, particularly in the south of the country, over those key terrain districts that really are the cradle of the Taliban and we're talking about Kandahar City here in its contiguous districts, but also central Helmand where the Coalition has put in quite substantial forces over the last six months and have made real inroads. So look, it's part and parcel, as I said, of this strategy to create an impression of deteriorating security.

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