PRESIDENT HAMID KARZAI DEMANDS THAT THE U.S. CURTAIL THE USE OF AIR STRIKES WHEN FIGHTING INSURGENTS IN AFGHANISTAN -- "60 MINUTES"
Too Many Civilians are Being Killed, Says Afghan Leader
The president of Afghanistan demands that the U.S. military curtail its use of air strikes against insurgents in his country because they are killing too many civilians. President Hamid Karzai makes this demand publicly for the first time in an interview with Scott Pelley to be broadcast on 60 MINUTES, Sunday, Oct. 28 (7:00-8:00, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Karzai says he has already communicated this message privately to President George W. Bush.
"The United States and the Coalition Forces are not [killing civilians] deliberately. The United States is here to help the Afghan people," Karzai tells Pelley. "The Afghan people understand that mistakes are made. But five years on, six years on, definitely, very clearly, they cannot comprehend as to why there is still a need for air power," says Karzai. Asked by Pelley if he wants a rollback of the air strikes, Karzai replies, "Absolutely. Oh, yes, in clear words and I want to repeat that, [there are] alternatives to the use of air force and I will speak for it again through your media."
You're demanding [a cutback]?" asks Pelley. "Absolutely," says Karzai.
Karzai appears in a story Pelley is reporting on the death of nine civilians - four generations of one family-- last March in the province of Kapisa. Their deaths were the result of two 2,000-lb. bombs dropped by the U.S. Air Force on a neighborhood where two rifle-toting insurgents were said to have hidden after firing a rocket at a U.S. base. "That is a mistake. I know that....A careless mistake, but not deliberate," says Karzai.
A 7-year-old boy, whose mother was among the victims, survived the attack because he was at his uncle's house. Now the little boy says he hates Americans. This is the problem, says Karzai. "That's...why I'm so strongly asking for a rethink of the use of air force," says Karzai. "And this little boy I will call to my office. I will share his pain with him, as do the rest of the Afghan people. And try to get him a future."
The deaths of the nine are just some of hundreds of civilians killed by Coalition Forces this year, a number uncomfortably similar to that killed by the Taliban over the same period. Still, much scrutiny goes into the decision to drop bombs from the air and many more might perish if such care was not taken, says Col. Gary Crowder, deputy director of the Combined Air Operations Center, which directs all air attacks in the region. Crowder says air strikes are called off at the last minute "thousands and thousands of times a month... We...very, very often, tracked some of the insurgent leaders...for days and days on end," he tells Pelley. The strikes are called off because the criteria for rules of engagement aren't met and civilians might be endangered, says Crowder.
While the Taliban deliberately target civilians in Afghanistan, Coalition Forces utilize numerous techniques to try to minimize civilian deaths, including human and signals intelligence, plus real time overhead video. The 60 MINUTES visit to the Combined Air Operations Center marked the first time news cameras have ever visited the center.