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Afghan leader vows punishment for deadly US raid
Afghanistan Karzai 4883469
An Afghan elderly man, who allegedly lost his relatives during last month's air strikes of U.S. and Afghan forces in Azizabad village, waits to participate at a ceremony, where Afghan President Hamid Karzai talks, in Shindant district of Herat province, west of Kabul, Afghanistan on Thursday, Sept. 4, 2008. President Hamid Karzai on Thursday flew over the village in the country's west where Afghan officials say 90 civilians were killed last month during a raid by American special forces and Afghan commandos. - photo by Associated Press
    KABUL, Afghanistan — The Afghan president said a deadly raid on a village by American and Afghan commandos has put new strain on relations with the United States and promised Thursday to punish those responsible.
    U.S. officials have said that at least 30 militants, including a Taliban commander, and no more than seven civilians were killed during the Aug. 22 raid. Afghan officials, backed by the United Nations mission, insist that more than 90 civilians died, including dozens of children.
    President Hamid Karzai’s comment come a day after he spoke to President Bush about the raid and how to prevent civilian casualties, his office said.
    ‘‘President Bush told President Karzai that he grieves anytime innocents die,’’ White House national security spokesman Gordon Johndroe said Thursday.
    Karzai said that following the raid ‘‘our relation with the foreigners got worst,’’ according to the statement from his office.
    ‘‘In the last five years I have tried day and night to prevent these incidents from happening,’’ Karzai told the villagers assembled inside a mosque in Shindand, several miles away from Azizabad.
    Karzai promised them that those responsible for the raid would face justice and be punished, the statement said. He already has fired two Afghan officers involved in the raid.
    The U.S. has long said that Taliban militants pressure Afghan villagers to falsely claim civilian casualties, information warfare that does serious damage to the reputations of the U.S., NATO and the Western-backed Afghan government.
    In Azizabad and other small villages where civilians are reported killed in combat, the Afghan government and international militaries pay about $2,000 for each person killed, giving villagers incentive to file false claims. U.S. officials acknowledge that payments have been made for people who never existed.
    But the Afghan claims in the case of Azizabad have been backed by the United Nations own preliminary investigation, which said that some 60 children were among 90 people killed.
    The dispute over the Azizabad raid has soured relations between Karzai and his key foreign supporters — the United States and other nations with troops fighting against the Taliban and other militants in Afghanistan.
    Afghan officials say U.S. special forces and Afghan commandos raided the village while hundreds of people were gathered in a large compound for a memorial service honoring a tribal leader, Timor Shah, who was killed eight months ago by a rival.
    A U.S. report released Tuesday said that up to seven civilians and between 30 and 35 Taliban militants were killed in the Azizabad operation in the early hours of Aug. 22.
    The U.S. said its casualty numbers were determined by observation of militant movements during the engagement and onsite observations immediately after the battle.
    Gen. David McKiernan, the commander of the NATO-led force in Afghanistan, said in a statement Wednesday that he ‘‘concurs with the findings’’ released by U.S.-led coalition command, whose troops were involved in the raid.
    The U.S. report said American and Afghan forces approaching Azizabad took fire from militants that ‘‘justified use of well-aimed small-arms fire and close air support to defend the combined force.’’
    Afghan and some Western officials say there is video and photo evidence to prove their assertion that a large number of children were killed during the Azizabad raid.
    None of that material has been made public yet.
    Following the raid, Karzai ordered a review to examine whether the U.S. and NATO should be allowed to carry out airstrikes or raids in villages. Karzai also called for an updated ‘‘status of force’’ agreement between the Afghan government and foreign militaries.
    Associated Press writer Rahim Faiez in Kabul contributed to this report.

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