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Afghanistan president Karzai ramps up anti-American rhetoric, demands airstrikes end

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Jan. 19, 2014: An Afghan police walks ahead of members of civil society organizations for their protection as they march in a street, during an anti-terrorism demonstration in Kabul, Afghanistan. (AP)

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai has demanded that the United States must cease military operations and airstrikes, as well as resume peace talks with the Taliban, before he signs a security deal to keep some U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond this year.  

Karzai's deepening anti-American rhetoric comes as the Taliban intensifies its assaults ahead of the planned withdrawal and after Friday's militant raid on a popular Kabul restaurant, the deadliest single attack against foreign civilians since U.S-led operations in Afghanistan began in 2001.

Although Karzai has made similar demands in the past, he has in recent weeks ratcheted up his condemnations of alleged U.S. failures as Afghans look fearfully ahead to an uncertain future.

Karzai's has repeatedly declined to sign an agreement allowing some U.S. forces to stay past the planned withdrawal. Karzai tentatively endorsed the deal after it was completed last October, but first refused to sign it until after it was approved by a council of tribal elders known as the Loya Jirga in November.

Then, after the elders approved it, Karzai still declined to sign it, claiming he wants his successor to decide after the April 5 presidential election.

The U.S. had wanted the deal to be signed by the end of last year because it needs time to prepare to keep thousands of U.S. troops in the country for up to a decade. NATO allies also have said they won't stay if the Americans pull out.

The agreement aims to help train and develop Afghan forces, while also allowing for a smaller counterterrorism force to pursue Al Qaeda fighters and other groups.

Karzai's demand to stop military operations and airstrikes is a response to the findings of an investigation into a joint Afghan-U.S. military operation last week that resulted in civilian casualties, which Karzai blamed on a U.S. military air strike.

The U.S.-led international military coalition, however, provided a sharply different account Sunday of what happened during the two-day operation against insurgents in eastern Parwan province, saying it was an Afghan-led effort and carried out at the request of the government.

Karzai convened his National Security Council on Sunday to discuss the Parwan attack.

"Airstrikes are a matter of concern for the Afghan people. The National Security Council said there should be an immediate end to all operations and airstrikes by foreign forces," a statement said.

Karzai sent a delegation to investigate the Jan. 15 airstrike in the Ghorband district of Parwan province, which borders Kabul. The delegation blamed the U.S. for ordering an operation it said killed 12 civilians and four Taliban fighters. It further said local authorities were not informed about the operation.

The coalition, which is carrying out its own investigation, said the government was not only aware but had requested the operation ahead of the elections because the area had fallen under Taliban control.

"The operation was requested by the governor in response to those conditions," the coalition said in a statement. "The resulting plan, approved through the Ministry of Defense, was a deliberate clearing operation to disrupt insurgent activity, based on intelligence obtained primarily by Afghan forces."

The coalition said a team of more than 70 Afghan commandos with a few U.S. Special Operations Forces carried out the operation. Senior U.S. military officials, who requested anonymity as they weren't allowed to brief journalists about an ongoing investigation, said the commandos came under heavy fire almost immediately. An Afghan commando and U.S. soldier were killed, they said.

Afghan National Security Forces had nine U.S. advisers with them when they became trapped by withering fire from residential homes, they said.

"At that point, the ANSF and coalition advisers were unable to maneuver or withdraw without sustaining significant casualties. The combined force required defensive air support in order to suppress enemy fire from two compounds," the coalition statement said.

One senior U.S. military official said the decision to ask for air support was taken "in extremis" by the Afghan ground commander. The official said there were two civilians killed and one wounded.

Karzai also demanded Sunday that the U.S. do more to start talks with the Taliban, although an American effort to get them going through intermediaries in Qatar collapsed last summer. The Taliban have refused to talk directly with Karzai, his government or its representatives.

Karzai's statement further warned that the country risked slipping into "feudalism" if his conditions were not met.

Meanwhile Sunday, hundreds of Afghans gathered outside a Lebanese restaurant in Kabul to protest against a Taliban assault there that killed 21 people Friday. A suicide bomber and two gunmen attacked La Taverna du Liban, killing 13 foreigners and eight Afghans, all of them civilians.

Protesters chanted against terrorism as they laid flowers.

"Today, we stand against terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, and the killing of the civilians by terrorists," demonstrator Salma Alkozai said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.