Afghan President Hamid Karzai called on president-elect Barack Obama to reverse the increasing US and NATO dependence on air strikes to combat anti-government guerrillas. The call came in the wake of reports that a US bombing raid intended to disrupt Taliban supply lines to the southern city of Qandahar had accidentally killed 40 civilians and wounded 28 in a wedding party procession near the village of Shah Wali Kot.
Wedding parties in Taliban-controlled areas would be difficult to distinguish from supply convoys from the air, and wedding celebrations often involve tribesmen firing their weapons into the air in celebration, so that they might appear to be hostile to low-flying US helicopters or surveillance aircraft. The US says it will investigate the incident, which would be the third major such bombardment of civilians since July. Some unnamed US officials admitted to the BBC that there were civilian casualties in the air raid.
US air strikes in Afghanistan are up 31% this year. The tactic had been avoided by US commanders in 2004 and 2005 as too risky, since mistaken bombardment of civilian villagers would alienate the Pushtun population in the south and might create sympathy for the Taliban.
Karzai clearly has pleaded with George W. Bush to reduce the incidence of air strikes, and been rebuffed. It is remarkable that he is already appealing directly to Obama, going above Bush’s head so to speak.
Obama has pledged increased ground troops for the Afghanistan War, in addition to earmarking $1 billion for civilian aid to combat the poverty that sometimes creates dissatisfactions that benefit the Taliban.