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Civilian deaths sow discord between U.S. and Afghanistan

Afghanistan's president said Saturday that the United States has put the two countries' security pact at risk with a unilateral airstrike that killed 18 civilians, while a Taliban suicide bomber killed four French soldiers responding to a tipoff about a bomb hidden under a bridge.

The violence and the dispute highlight the muddled nature of the international mission in Afghanistan as NATO coalition countries try to shift to a training role in a country that is still very much at war.

The majority of NATO and U.S. forces are scheduled to leave the country by the end of 2014, but the exit is looking far from neat at the beginning of the hot summer months when fighting typically surges.

France is already rushing to get its combat forces out by the end of this year, and four deaths in one bombing could precipitate that pullout.

The United States, meanwhile, has tried to create an orderly transition through a series of agreements covering detentions, village raids and its long-term commitment to Afghanistan. But the Wednesday airstrike by U.S. forces showed how quickly those deals divorce from the reality on the ground.

During the raid in the eastern province of Logar, troops from both countries came under fire while going after a local Taliban leader holed up in a village home. They fought back, and the Americans called in an airstrike. Only later did they discover that in addition to insurgents, they killed women, children and old men who had gathered there for a wedding party.

Presidential spokesman Aimal Faizi said that President Hamid Karzai met with investigators and concluded that U.S. troops had called in the aircraft without coordinating with Afghan units -- thus, according to Kabul's interpretation, violating the terms of its agreements with Washington.

The pact signed by the United States and Afghanistan in April put the Afghan government in charge of most such "special operations" -- a move designed to resolve some of the long-standing tension.

However, presidential spokesman Faizi called the airstrike a "one-sided" decision that had not been coordinated with the Afghans.

He said investigators told the president that Afghan forces had surrounded the house in question, but the U.S. troops decided not to wait for them to flush out the militants and called in aircraft instead.

Karzai and his advisers decided that if such incidents happened in the future they would consider them a breach of the special operations pact, the spokesman said.

French troops were responding to a report of a bomb planted under a bridge in the main market area of Kapisa province's Nijrab district when a suicide bomber walked up to the soldiers and detonated his explosives, said Qais Qadri, a spokesman for the provincial government.

Another five French troops were wounded in the blast, along with four Afghan civilians, according to French and Afghan officials.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.