Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Saturday that NATO’s efforts to prevent civilian deaths during its operations are not enough because innocent people keep dying, as the military alliance continued its offensive in a key Taliban stronghold.
In a speech at the opening session of the Afghan parliament, Mr. Karzai also repeated his call to Taliban fighters to renounce Al-Qaeda and join with the government — an appeal that may have more resonance after recent arrests of Taliban leaders in Pakistan.
Mr. Karzai held up a picture of an 8-year-old girl who he said was the only one left to recover the bodies of her 12 relatives, all killed when two NATO rockets struck their home during the offensive in the southern town of Marjah. He called the incident a tragedy for all Afghanistan.
Mr. Karzai said NATO has made progress in reducing civilian casualties and air bombardments — which have been responsible for some of the largest incidents of civilian deaths. And he thanked NATO commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who attended the speech, for “standing with us honestly in this effort.”
However, Mr. Karzai stressed that the effort is not sufficient.
“We need to reach the point where there are no civilian casualties,” Mr. Karzai said. “Our effort and our criticism will continue until we reach that goal.”
His comments came as NATO reported that its troops killed another civilian in Marjah, bringing the civilian death toll from the operation to at least 16.
The week-old operation in Marjah is a major test of a new NATO strategy that stresses protecting civilians over routing insurgents as quickly as possible.
Mr. Karzai also pressed Taliban fighters once again to put down their guns and join with the Afghan government.
“Stop the war. Come back to your home and help with the reconstruction,” Mr. Karzai said. He said he was confident the appeal he has been making for years has more chance of succeeding now that the international community is supporting the idea.