"The Americans do not help us! They destroy our houses and kill innocent civilians,” deplores Habibullah, a young student in the Afghan capital of Kabul. Habibullah is not the only Afghan expressing discontent over NATO operations in Afghanistan.
An August 22, coalition air raid targeting a Taliban commander in the village of Azizabad, about 120 kilometers from the western Afghan city of Herat, not far from the Iran border, killed 90 civilians, according to the Afghan government and UN officials. For their part, the US military has expressed its regret for “the loss of innocent lives” and has announced that it would open an investigation into the attack.
Death to the Americans
But that has failed to stem rising Afghan discontent over the incident. Demonstrators in Kabul and Herat took to the streets chanting, “Death to America.”
"The Americans maintain that there were Taliban militants in the area, but they must prove it. Such bombardments undermine public support for the Afghan government,” said Nematullah Sharani, Afghan Minister for Religious Affairs and head of an Afghan inquiry commission set up to look into the event.
With public ire showing little sign of declining, the August 22 attack has contributed to the degradation of the Afghan-American relations.
Shortly after the attack, the Afghan government declared that it wanted to renegotiate the presence of foreign forces in Afghanistan, an announcement by Afghan President Hamid Karzai that was undoubtedly made with an eye on the upcoming Afghan presidential elections. The incident prompted Karzai to sack two senior Afghan army officers. And it was here, in a declaration made before the families of the victims, that Karzai said his country’s relations with the US have been put under considerable stress. He, in addition, promised that the people in charge of this operation would be punished.
A smear on NATO’s operations in Afghanistan
The August 22 strike is not the first time that international forces have been held responsible for Afghan civilian casualties. But, according to the Afghan inquiry commission, the bombardment of Azizabad constitutes the largest smear on NATO operations in Afghanistan. According to the Afghan Commission of Human Rights, more than 900 civilians have been killed in insurgency-linked violence since the start of 2008.
Afghan dissatisfaction - especially in the militant ‘hot zones’ that have seen the bulk of coalition operations – is mounting, leading to a distrust of the international military presence in the area and a growing support for the Taliban. The Afghan president fears that this incident could have disastrous consequences for the counter-insurgency operations and the future security of Afghanistan.