Angry demonstrators at a big rally in eastern Afghanistan on Sunday condemned a U.S-led raid against Taliban insurgents in their area they say killed 16 Afghan civilians. President Hamid Karzai also has criticized the operation, saying civilian deaths in anti-terror raids are helping the cause of extremist forces.
Thousands of Afghans took to the streets on Sunday despite heavy rain in Mehtar Lam, the capital of eastern Laghman province, and demanded an end to the foreign-led military operations in the country.
Protesters were chanting slogans against President Hamid Karzai and the United States. Eyewitnesses say protesters threw stones at the provincial governor, who was trying to clam the crowd.
U.S military officials say the raid in Laghman on Friday night killed 15 militants and it was conducted after coalition forces in the area came under attack. But Afghan officials say that women and children were among the victims. The U.S.-led coalition has opened an investigation.
A statement issued from the presidential palace in Kabul quoted Mr. Karzai as saying that bombing villages and causing civilian deaths will undermine progress in the war against terrorism. The Afghan president says that failure to coordinate attacks with his government will weaken its sovereignty and strengthen militants.
Later, while addressing a ceremony at the Afghan national military academy in Kaubl, President Karzai said he hopes the country's armed forces will soon be able to defend Afghanistan's borders to ensure internal peace and stability.
Referring to the deaths in Laghman province, Mr. Karzai said that until Afghan security forces are able to defend their own homeland civilian casualties will keep happening.
Operations by foreign and Afghan forces in Afghanistan have killed an estimated 700 civilians within the past year. The country is preparing to elect a new president later this year, and President Karzai will be a candidate. But critics say that civilian deaths in anti-terror raids have eroded public support for the Afghan leader and the U.S-led foreign forces backing him.
Speaking at a news conference in Kabul last week, President Karzai said civilian deaths are a main source of instability in Afghanistan.