Afghanistan leaders seek greater control of U.S. operations

Saturday, July 13, 2002

AROQ, Afghanistan -- Six Afghan governors are demanding the United States obtain their permission before conducting military operations in their provinces, one of them said Friday -- another sign of fallout after a U.S. airstrike reportedly killed 48 civilians.

The governors also plan to organize a regional military force to hunt for Taliban and al-Qaida fugitives and to police international borders independently of the central government in Kabul, Kandahar Gov. Gul Agha said.

Agha told The Associated Press he would inform President Bush of the requirement to obtain their permission for combat operations when he visits Washington next week.

"We have already decided the matter," Agha said. "In the future, the Americans cannot conduct their operations without the approval of the council," meaning the six governors or their representatives.

Agha's comments followed the July 1 airstrike by a U.S. AC-130 gunship on villages in Uruzgan province in which Afghans said 48 civilians were killed and 170 wounded.

Late Thursday, a U.S. special forces compound came under grenade and small arms fire near where the airstrike killed civilians, U.S. officials said.

There were no casualties in the attack near Tarin Kot, capital of Uruzgan province, U.S. military spokesman Col. Roger King said Friday. Afghan soldiers working alongside special forces returned fire after the brief attack, King added.

U.S. officials acknowledge civilians were killed in the airstrike but said they could not confirm the casualty toll. The commander of coalition forces, Lt. Gen. Dan K. McNeill, has ordered an inquiry.

Also Friday, McNeill told AP in an interview that coalition forces had largely routed al-Qaida from its Afghan hide-outs and that he did not expect any more large-scale battles. However, he would not say how long he expected the military campaign here to continue.

'A very bad mistake'

President Hamid Karzai's government or the five other governors could not be reached for comment about Agha's statements. Friday is the Islamic day of prayer and government offices are closed. Agha said Karzai was aware of the plans, but he did not indicate the president's reaction.

"The Americans made a very bad mistake in Uruzgan," Agha said. "But we do not want the Americans to leave until we are prepared. The whole world knows that they are here to crush the terrorists, who are the enemies of all people."

A spokesman for the U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla., Maj. Ralph Mills, said the United States will continue close cooperation with the Afghan government. However, he said the Afghans will not be allowed to control operations.

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