Obama Expresses Sorrow Over Afghan Civilian Deaths

Posted June 8th, 2011 at 3:10 pm (UTC-5)
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The United States is trying to ease tensions over continuing civilian casualties in Afghanistan, even as it prepares to pull some of its troops out of the country.

U.S. President Barack Obama “expressed his sorrow” over civilians casualties, most recently in Helmand province. He spoke during a video teleconference Wednesday with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Mr. Karzai has been increasingly critical of suspected U.S. air strikes that are often blamed for killing civilians, saying last month that such strikes would no longer be tolerated.

The talks between the two leaders come as a U.S. congressional report criticizes Washington's 10-year-long effort in Afghanistan.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee says the U.S. has little to show for the nearly $19 billion it has spent and warns further U.S. attempts to rebuild Afghanistan may not survive when foreign troops leave the country in 2014.

Presidential spokesman Jay Carney said the White House welcomes the report but does not endorse all the conclusions, saying U.S. efforts have broken the Taliban's momentum.

President Obama is considering how many U.S. troops to cut from the estimated 100,000 now in Afghanistan and has said he will make an announcement soon.

Senate Armed Service Committee Chairman Carl Levin Wednesday called on the president to bring home at least 15,000 troops by the end of the year.

In other developments, Ryan Crocker, the nominee for U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, warns the future of Afghanistan will depend on what happens in neighboring Pakistan.

Crocker testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that making progress in Afghanistan has been hard and that the situation will not improve without “a fair measure of success in Pakistan.” Still, he said the situation was not hopeless.

He also warned that terror groups currently based in Pakistan might try to use the planned U.S. military drawdown in Afghanistan as an opportunity to move their bases back across the border.

The United States has been putting increased pressure on Pakistan to crack down on terror groups within its borders. A raid by U.S. commandos killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in a town north of the capital of Islamabad last month.

Crocker, a veteran diplomat, said the goal in Afghanistan should be to help create a government that can sustain itself and is “good enough” to prevent the country from again becoming a safe haven for terrorists.

During his testimony, he said corruption is a key problem in Afghanistan, saying it amounted to a “second insurgency,” making groups like the Taliban more attractive.

Crocker previously served as a diplomat in Afghanistan in 2002, when he helped reopen the U.S. embassy in Kabul. He also served as ambassador to Iraq and Pakistan.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry expressed hope that the panel and full Senate would approve Crocker's nomination quickly.

Senior Defense Department officials have cautioned against a precipitous troop withdrawal from Afghanistan for fear that U.S. military gains against the Taliban could be reversed. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who is retiring soon, has called for a “modest” decrease.