By Muhammet Tarhan and Zuhal Demirci
ANKARA (AA) - The head of Afghanistan’s High Council National Reconciliation blasted the killing of at least 39 Afghan civilians by Australian forces during an interview with Anadolu Agency.
“There is no way to define this brutality. There is no way to explain what has happened. It is incomprehensible,” Abdullah Abdullah told Turkey’s leading news provider.
“These are crimes against innocent people, and I was shocked,” said Abdullah, during an official visit in Turkey on Nov. 19-20.
“At the same time, the Australian government has come very clear with it -- about what has happened,” he said.
“There has been a thorough investigation of the cases and they have all the details of it.
“And there is a commitment to prosecute those who are responsible,” he said.
“But this is, unfortunately, something which shocked people as a whole because the report has come with a lot of details on the miseries of the people involved in the war and also what they've gone through,” he added.
Australian authorities released details Thursday of the probe into the killings by their special forces in Afghanistan.
Australian Defense Forces chief Gen. Angus Campbell sought an apology from Afghans as he shared the horrifying details.
“To the people of Afghanistan, on behalf of the Australian Defense Force, I sincerely and unreservedly apologize for any wrongdoing by Australian soldiers. I have spoken directly to my Afghan counterpart, Gen. [Yaseen] Zia, to convey this message," he said in a televised speech.
- Top Afghan peace negotiator in Turkey for talks
The top Afghan peace negotiator, who held talks with Turkish officials, including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, also indicated the importance of Turkey’s role in the peace process.
“Most of those discussions have been around the peace process, the role of the region, the role of neighboring countries of Afghanistan, and the status of the negotiation.
“Turkey has been supporting Afghanistan in the past 20 years. But luckily, our relations, good relations between the countries and the people, go back to the history for centuries,” he said.
“That is an opportunity -- knowing the status of Turkey and the role that they can play. So it was mainly around the peace process. But also, the Istanbul process was Turkey's initiative, which will be reenergized,” he added.
- Australian troops' crimes
Regarding the crimes by Australian troops, Abdullah said: “I want to be careful not to generalize this because the hundreds of thousands of forces have participated in the war in Afghanistan in the past 20 years.”
“This has not been the overall conduct of these forces, fortunately. But even one person being treated that way should be unacceptable,” he stressed. “And that's what, indeed, the thorough pursuit of the cases will help prevent these things from happening.”
- Afghan peace process
Asked about the peace process, Abdullah said: “The progress has been slow.”
“The people of Afghanistan expected us to deliver not only as the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, but also the Taliban, which are part of the negotiations,” he said.
“I will say that still there is an opportunity, the opportunity’s there. In some cases, the Taliban were much less flexible than expected because, in negotiations, you need to go with flexibility,” he said.
“And also, there has been a strong demand from the Afghan people asking for a reduction in violence or cease-fire or humanitarian cease-fire,” he said.
“A lot of countries have called for a humanitarian cease-fire, and also the secretary-general of the UN and European countries,” he said.
Under the Trump administration, a deal signed between the US and Taliban paved the way for intra-Afghan peace talks in Doha between the Kabul government and the Taliban. But no tangible progress has been made at the talks in the Qatari capital since it was launched on Sept. 12.
Asked if Afghans believe in a lasting peace at the end of the process, Abdullah said the process should continue.
“We are obliged to do whatever in our hands to achieve peace,” he said.
“There will be no winner through war. I repeat what I said at the Doha conference,” he said. “There will be no losers through a comprehensive inclusive peaceful settlement. If one side believes that they can win through war, it is a big miscalculation.”
The peace negotiator also pointed out the recent rise in the attacks against security forces and civilians.
“Unfortunately there has been an increase in the attacks against civilians and as well as against security forces,” he said.
Referring to an attack Saturday, he said it “martyred eight people and more people have been wounded and there has been damage to properties.”
“There is no doubt that other terror groups as well like ISIS sometimes commit crimes in Afghanistan, and they continue to commit crimes in different parts of the country and they are responsible for it,” he said, using another acronym for Daesh.
“Since the fighting, the war is mainly between the security forces of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and Taliban, other terror groups also have taken advantage of the situation,” he said.
“It's the responsibility of both sides to find a way to achieve peace. If the calculation is that 'by increasing violence they can gain in the negotiating table', that will not happen,” he said. “Because that will only be a message to the people of Afghanistan about lack of commitment of the groups which are involved.”
“But as far as the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is concerned, we have been ready for a comprehensive cease-fire or humanitarian cease-fire or reduction in violence,” he said.
- 'New US administration to continue supporting peace process'
Asked about President-elect Joe Biden’s possible effect on the peace process, Abdullah said: “The incoming US administration will also be supportive of the peace process; I have no doubt.”
“Because there is a broad understanding in the US, a bipartisan understanding, that it is time to support the peace process and then eventually have a situation that there will be no need for international troops in Afghanistan,” he said.
“The new administration will give some efforts that will depend on them but I have no doubt in my mind their support for peace process will continue,” he said.
Regarding US President Donald Trump’s announcement of a reduction to the number of soldiers in Afghanistan, the top negotiator said: “They have decided to withdraw part of their troops and at the same time they decided to maintain part of their troops.”
“[A total of] 2,500 of their troops will stay in Afghanistan. They are committed to continuing to support Afghan security institutions, national defense institutions, which is good, that policy will continue,” he said.
"NATO countries will decide in close coordination with the US -- a lead country in NATO,” he said.
“So NATO troops will maintain their presence [in Afghanistan], and most probably they will make a decision about it late December this year. And their commitment to support the Afghan institutions is a long-term one,” he said.
Acting US Secretary of Defense Chris Miller said earlier this week that the US will reduce troops in Afghanistan and Iraq each to 2,500 by Jan. 15, 2021.
"On Jan. 15, 2021, our forces, their size in Afghanistan will be 2,500 troops. Our force size in Iraq will also be 2,500 by that same day," Miller said at a news briefing at the Pentagon.