Civilian deaths no longer tolerable: Karzai
"I have made clear to Americans authorities to put a permanent stop to the killing of civilians in airstrikes," Karzai told a joint news conference with outgoing US Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Such deaths were no more tolerable for the Afghans, the president said, adding he had discussed the emotive issue in detail with the secretary, who arrived in Kabul on a farewell visit in the afternoon. US-Afghan ties and the war on terror also figured at the meeting.
Due to retire at the end of June, Gates flew into the Afghan capital from Singapore to meet US troops, Karzai and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) commander, Gen. David Petraeus.
Speaking to reporters in Singapore earlier in the day, he called for reconciliation with Taliban. "I think there is a generally accepted view that all conflicts of this kind eventually come to a close through some kind of political settlement."
But the chances of a political settlement would not become real until the insurgents, who have been ousted from their strongholds in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, began to realise that they could not win militarily.
Karzai told reporters that he had asked the defence secretary that there should be no more nighttime operations which resulted in civilian casualties.
A joint commission had been set up with NATO forces to prevent civilian casualties, Karzai said, hoping the commission would have positive results.
The president said he discussed with Gates the proposed strategic cooperation agreement. "We have informed US officials about our stance on the agreement, and they have presented their own. We are in search of a decision which is in the interest and benefit of the two countries," Karzai said.
The president thanked Gates for maintaining good relations with the Afghan government and people during his four and half year tenure as the US defense secretary.
He said the Afghan government in recognition of his services had conferred the Wazir Akbar Khan Medal on Gates, who in reply also thanked Karzai.
For his part, Gates said it was his last visit to Afghanistan as defense secretary. He is expected to meet troops from his country during his visit.
Gates also admitted that the US had committed mistake by abandoning Afghanistan after the collapse of Soviet Union. The September 11 attacks were a result of that mistake, he said.
He said the US and the international community worked a lot to strengthen and equip Afghan forces over the past years. He also hailed NATO's achievements against insurgents in southern and eastern Afghanistan. The international troops were maintaining security for areas they had retaken from insurgents, he said.
On civilian casualties, he said recent incidents of civilian casualties left them deeply concerned. However, he blamed the Taliban for using civilian houses and populated areas for attacks on security forces.
Gates also said a gradual withdrawal of US troops would start this year and only troops playing supportive role would remain in the country. The process of foreign troops' drawdown is expected to begin in July till 2014.
However, Gates said they were in no hurry to pullout their troops from Afghanistan. Strategic cooperation with Afghanistan would last long, he added.
Download “Pajhwok” mobile App, on your smartphone to read and access latest news, features, interviews, videos and photos about Afghanistan.