Tensions rise over Afghan civilian deaths

A probe into claims that international troops killed scores of civilians in northeast Afghanistan escalated into a feud today between President Hamid Karzai and senior US military officials.

Updated: Feb 23, 2011, 12:01 PM IST

Kabul: An investigation into claims that
international troops killed scores of civilians in northeast
Afghanistan escalated into a feud today between President
Hamid Karzai and senior US military officials who cited a
report that Afghan parents have been known to discipline
children by burning their hands and feet.

Karzai spokesman Waheed Omar described comments made
by Rear Adm Gregory Smith, director of communications for the
US-led coalition, also known as International Security
Assistance Force, as being "outrageous, insulting and racist."
He demanded a clarification.

The flap started during a discussion at the
presidential palace about claims that NATO forces killed about
60 civilians during a four-day operation in Kunar province a
charge that has been contested by the international coalition.

Media reports and television footage broadcast after
the claims showed severely injured children and others with
burns on their faces, hands and feet, yet it was unclear if
they were injured in military operations.

The Washington Post, quoting unidentified individuals
who attended the palace meeting, reported today that Gen David
Petraeus, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, had suggested
that Afghans might have intentionally burned their own
children to exaggerate claims of civilian casualties.

The coalition vehemently denied the report.
"Gen Petraeus never said that children`s hands and
feet were purposely burned by their families in order to
create a CIVCAS (civilian casualty) event," Smith said.

"Rather, he said that the injuries to the children
appeared inconsistent with the types of munitions used and
that the burns to their hands and feet may have been the
result of discipline sometimes handed out to Afghan children.

Regrettably this is customary among some Afghan fathers as a
way of dealing with children who misbehave."

Omar said that Karzai was demanding an explanation.

"The president was extremely annoyed by the comments made by
Adm Smith that Afghans boil the hands and feet of their
children to discipline them and we find these comments
outrageous, insulting and racist," Omar told The Associated
Press.

"Afghans love their children and to suggest that
Afghans boil the hands and feet of their children suggests a
lack of information or ... someone`s feeling for Afghans. We
want NATO and the ISAF leadership to take serious note of
these comments and the president will ask for clarification
from ISAF in this," he said.

Omar added that "on the one side, Afghan children and
women are killed brutally by terrorists and on the other side
they are insulted in this manner."

PTI