Saturday night, NATO attack helicopters killed 14 Afghan civilians, including 12 children in the Helmand Province. The deaths sparked angry protests in the city of Lashkar Gah, and also an angry rebuke from President Hamid Karzai, who said it was NATO’s “last warning.”
Such rebukes are pretty common: indeed it seems like most of President Karzai’s public speeches are criticisms of NATO forces killing civilians. This weekend, however, things seem to be working out a little different.
That’s because in the wake of the warning, NATO warplanes struck again on the opposite side of the country, in Nuristan Province. In this case, the apparently US planes attacked what they thought were insurgents, killing 18 innocent civilians and 20 members of the provincial police.
Though the Karzai government has long been contented to deal in official condemnations while NATO offers go-nowhere investigations, the massive toll of the two weekend strikes combined with the second one coming after the “last warning” puts the president’s credibility, such as it is, in serious peril. Civilian deaths in US and NATO strikes have long strained Karzai’s ties with his western occupiers/patrons, but will this finally be one air strike too far? It remains to be seen.