FARS News Agency
March 4, 2013

Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai condemned the killing of two young boys in a military operation involving Australian forces in Uruzgan province.

The two boys, both under seven years old, were tending livestock and collecting firewood when they were killed, ABC news reported.

On Sunday, Uruzgan provincial governor Amir Mohammad Akhundzada said the children were mistakenly killed by Australian troops, but it is widely believed the fatal shots were fired by a US military helicopter.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has said its troops opened fire at what they believed were insurgent forces and apologized to the families of the boys.

Australian Defense Force Chief General David Hurley confirmed Australian special forces soldiers were patrolling the area when the incident took place, but said it was too early to say exactly who is to blame.

President Karzai says the deaths are further proof the war on the Taliban should not be fought in Afghanistan’s villages.

“The government has repeatedly stressed that the war on terrorism cannot succeed in Afghan villages and homes, but rather in its sanctuaries and safe havens outside our borders,” Karzai, in a clear reference to Pakistan.

The president added he was deeply grieved over the deaths and offered his condolences to the families.

Heather Barr, a Kabul-based analyst from Human Rights Watch, says civilian deaths are an increasing source of tension between Afghanistan and its western allies.

“We’ve seen over the last couple of years this relationship becoming increasingly tense and we’ve seen it punctuated by frequent… almost tantrums by Karzai,” she said.

“These are very often prompted by civilian casualties and we’ve seen Karzai responding with specific measures, including his recent ban on Afghan security forces calling in air strikes.

“(Then) we’ve had the events of the last week or so, where Karzai has actually expelled special operations forces from Wardak, a key province near Kabul. ”

Barr says Karzai makes no secret of his view the withdrawal of western forces will actually improve the security situation.

“Karzai’s position lately seems to be that the fewer international forces that are here, the better the security situation will be,” she said.

Australian troops, along with most other western forces, are set to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014.

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