ALISSA J. RUBIN
Leon E. Panetta,the United States defence secretary,arrived in Afghanistan on Thursday,after the deadliest day for civilians this year and amid controversy over a NATO airstrike the day before in which Afghan officials say 18 women and children were killed.
President Hamid Karzai condemned the strike in the strongest terms and decided the episode was serious enough to cut short his trip to China where he was participating in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit meeting.
NATO cannot justify any airstrike which causes harm to the lives and property of civilians, Karzai said in a statement released by his office.
A joint investigation into the episode by the Afghan government and NATO has begun,according to a NATO spokesman. Initial reporting by NATO,however,said no civilians had been killed.
Panetta,who said he wants an assessment of the situation in Afghanistan from the senior allied commander,Gen. John R. Allen,used a news conference to speak out strongly about the safe havens in Pakistan where Taliban and other extremists take refuge between attacks on coalition and Afghan forces.
It is an increasing concern that the safe havens exist and the Haqqanis are using it to attack our forces, said Panetta as he stood next to Afghan defence minister Abdul Rahim Wardak. He was referring to the Haqqani network,Islamic militants operating from Pakistan.
We are reaching the limits of our patience here,and for that reason it is extremely important that Pakistan take action to prevent this kind of safe haven, he said.
Panetta said the Haqqanis most recently had been involved in an attack on Camp Salerno in Khost Province and that it was an intolerable situation.
Panetta arrived a day after a suicide attack in Kandahar City killed 23 Afghan civilians and there was a suicide bombing in Faryab in the north of the country,which is usually peaceful,in addition to the NATO airstrike that Afghan officials and residents said had killed women and children in eastern Afghanistan.