Scores of civilians were killed in Friday’s NATO air strike on Taliban insurgents in northern Afghanistan, according to the Afghanistan Rights Monitor – the first independent estimate of the death toll.
NATO has yet to finish its investigation into the attack on two hijacked fuel trucks, but admits some civilians may have been among up to 70 victims. Either way, the airstrike has sparked a debate over Europe’s continued involvement or an exit strategy. After talks in Berlin last night the British and German leaders called for a summit on Afghanistan’s future, which should focus on helping it take more responsibility. “It should deal with the issues of security, governance and development and it should of course follow the (ISAF commander Stanley) McChrystal review and the work that is ongoing in all our countries to look at the best pathway forward to Afghanistan,” said British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed. She said: “It is important, and that is both our intention, to raise the pressure on the Afghan side to realise that they will have to take over responsibility step by step. This goes for the country’s administration, the jurisdiction and the architecture of the country’s security.” Friday’s attack was the first in which Western forces were accused of killing large numbers of civilians since U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal took command of foreign forces in June, announcing protecting Afghans was the centrepiece of a new strategy. France has also signalled its support for such a conference, and they were joined by the US today. The call by the British, French and German governments, the largest contributors of troops to the war in Afghanistan after the United States, came as mounting military casualties and doubts about the mission there have fuelled growing public opposition in Europe. The deteriorating security situation has prompted an urgent review of NATO’s operation in Afghanistan. But with Merkel and Brown both facing election within a year, the outcome could be decided by voters in Europe.