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Afghan's Karzai demands U.S. halt air strikes: report

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Friday called on the United States to halt air strikes in his country, following attacks this week that Afghan officials said killed 147 people.

A U.S Marine patrols the Golestan district of Farah province, May 8, 2009. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

“We demand an end to these operations ... an end to air strikes,” Karzai said in Washington in an interview with CNN.

Farah Province deputy governor Yunus Rasooli told Reuters on Friday that residents of two villages hit this week by U.S. warplanes had produced lists with the names of 147 people killed in the attacks.

The issue of civilian casualties is a source of great friction between the Afghan government and its U.S. backers and the air strikes overshadowed a meeting between Karzai and U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington.

Karzai told CNN’s “Situation Room” that earlier in the beginning of the seven-year-old war that ousted the Islamist Taliban, Afghans had tolerated air strikes, but mounting civilian deaths had eroded that understanding.

“We cannot justify in any manner, for whatever number of Taliban or for whatever number of significantly important terrorists, the accidental or otherwise loss of civilians,” he said.

Karzai said Obama in their White House summit on Wednesday had expressed “sorrows and apologies” over the deaths in Farah province.

Violence this year has reached its highest level since the Taliban were ousted in late 2001, despite growing numbers of international troops. The U.S. military plans to more than double its troop numbers in Afghanistan to 68,000 by year’s end.

Officials are still investigating the incident in the two villages and trying to confirm the names, Rasooli said.

If the civilian toll is confirmed it would be the deadliest single incident for non-combatants since U.S.-led forces first started battling the Taliban in 2001.

Reporting by Paul Eckert, editing by Eric Beech