AFP | June 8, 2011
WASHINGTON — US President Barack Obama on Wednesday expressed his “sorrow” in a video conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai over recent civilian casualties in Afghanistan, his spokesman said.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama spoke to Karzai for an hour and discussed a number of topics, including the implications of the death of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a US special forces raid in May.
“The president expressed his sorrow over tragic civilian casualties, most recently in Helmand province,” Carney said.
“Both leaders noted that the Taliban are responsible for the great majority of civilian losses, and agreed that every loss of civilian life is a tragedy and undermines our mission that focuses on protecting the population.”
Karzai last week issued a stern warning to the US military to avoid operations that kill civilians, after he said 14 people allegedly died in an air strike in Helmand province.
The International Security Assistance Force put the death toll at nine and apologized, while saying the strike was carried out after insurgents who had earlier killed a US marine hid in a compound and carried on firing.
Western military figures say that hiding among civilians is a regular Taliban tactic when they are being pursued by international forces.
Karzai’s angry reaction to the killings represented the latest sign of tension between Kabul and Washington, at a time when Obama is deliberating over the size of a troop drawdown he has promised for July this year.
Carney said Obama and Karzai also agreed on “their shared commitment to Afghan-led reconciliation, progress on forging an enduring US-Afghan strategic partnership, and transition to Afghan leadership for security.”
Obama has not yet decided on the “pace and the scope” of the drawdown, he said, though added the president would consult Karzai when he has reached a conclusion.