KABUL, Afghanistan - Lawmakers angered by mounting civilian deaths have sent a sharp warning to U.S. and NATO commanders, passing a motion for a military cease-fire and negotiations with the Taliban.
The resolution, which NATO labeled "a warning shot" across its own bow, came as reports emerged Wednesday of 21 villagers killed in airstrikes - a toll that a Taliban spokesman said the militia would avenge.
The proposal from the upper house of parliament, which also calls for a date to be set for the withdrawal of foreign troops, suggests that Afghan support for the 5Â½-year international military mission is crumbling amid a series of civilian deaths.
The motion reflects lawmakers' belief that negotiations with militants would be more effective than fighting, said Aminuddin Muzafari, the secretary of the upper house.
"One of the reasons I want this bill implemented is because of the civilian deaths caused by both the enemy and international forces," said Abdul Ahmad Zahidi, a parliamentarian from Ghazni province. "It's difficult to prevent civilian deaths when the Taliban go inside the homes of local people. How can you prevent casualties then? You can't."
Parliament's lower house and President Hamid Karzai must endorse the proposal for it to become law. Presidential officials were not available for comment Wednesday. However, Karzai has repeatedly said he is open to talks with Taliban.
The resolution passed Tuesday, hours before U.S. special forces battling insurgents in Helmand province called in a series of airstrikes.
The U.S.-led coalition said it destroyed "three enemy command and control compounds" near Sangin, a militant hotbed in the heart of Afghanistan's biggest opium poppy region that has seen heavy fighting this year.
The coalition said a "significant" number of militants died in the 16-hour battle, which pitted insurgents against U.S. and Afghan government troops. One coalition soldier also died.
However, Helmand Gov. Assadullah Wafa said militants had sought shelter in Afghan homes and that the air strikes had killed at least 21 civilians. Neither account could be independently verified. The incident is just the latest in a string of operations in which Afghans have lamented civilian casualties. While a majority of civilian deaths over the years have been caused by Taliban attacks, fatalities caused by international forces have enraged villagers and sparked angry protests around Afghanistan in recent weeks, prompting Karzai to warn that Afghans have run out of patience with such losses. On Tuesday, U.S. military apologized and paid compensation to the families of 19 people killed and 50 wounded by Marines Special Forces who fired on civilians after a suicide attack in eastern Afghanistan in March. "We don't want their money and apologies. If somebody loses one of his family members, an apology won't bring him back," said Haji Lawania, who was injured in the incident and whose father and nephew were killed. The U.S. military also says it is looking into reports from Afghan officials that 51 civilians died in air strikes and fighting in the western province of Herat last month. According to an Associated Press tally based on reports from Afghan and Western officials, 238 civilians have been killed by violence this year, including at least 102 blamed on NATO or the U.S.-led coalition. Those numbers do not include the 21 reported killed Tuesday. Nicholas Lunt, a NATO spokesman in Afghanistan, said it was "quite clear" the Afghan parliament was making a statement about how military operations are carried out. He said NATO took the issue "very, very seriously." "I do not consider this at the moment a decisive vote on our status here and I think it would be wrong to interpret it that way, but I think it is definitely a warning shot across NATO's bows to take notice of the concerns," Lunt said. He said NATO leaders know their ability to operate depends on the support of Afghan people and that civilian deaths undermine the mission. He said NATO country ambassadors have explored in the last two days ways to more closely involve the Afghan government in military planning. Lunt said "negotiations should be encouraged" if militants are prepared to respect Afghan laws. However, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, a purported Taliban spokesman, said the group rejected any type of negotiations "until the Americans leave Afghanistan." He also said the Taliban would "take revenge" on coalition troops for any civilian deaths caused in Sangin. (AP) Associated Press reporter Rahim Faiez in Kabul contributed to this report. AP-CS-05-09-07 1708EDT
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