The commander of US-led forces in Afghanistan has agreed to respect pending restrictions by Kabul on airstrikes. President Karzai has moved to forbid Afghan forces from ordering airstrikes due to civilian casualties.
US General Joseph Dunford (pictured above, left) told reporters in Kabul on Sunday that NATO could still effectively support Afghan forces without resorting to airstrikes.
“We are prepared to provide support in line with the president's intent,” said Dunford, the new commander of NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
“There are other ways we can support our Afghan partners other than air ordinance,” the general said.
On Saturday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced that he would forbid Afghan forces from ordering NATO airstrikes on "Afghan homes or villages." Karzai's announcement came after 10 civilians were killed by a NATO airstrike in the northeastern Kunar province on Wednesday.
"I issue a decree, from tomorrow, none of the Afghan forces are allowed to ask for foreign air support under any conditions," the president told an audience of young officers.
"Our forces ask for air support from foreigners and children get killed in an airstrike," he said.
‘This is a sovereign nation'
Airstrikes have been a source of strain between the international military coalition and Kabul throughout the 11-year-long war in Afghanistan, with civilians frequently perishing in NATO aerial bombardments. The Afghan military relies heavily on close air support to defeat Taliban forces in battle.
According to the UN mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), there have been 83 civilian casualties as a result of coalition airstrikes in the first half of 2012, down 23 percent compared to the same period during 2011. Last June, the US-led international coalition issued a tactical directive saying it would only use airstrikes as a last resort and only to defend friendly troops.
General Dunford said that President Karzai's announced ban on close air support for Afghan forces was consistent with the June directive. NATO can still carry out airstrikes to support its own forces.
"This is a sovereign nation and the president is exercising sovereignty," Dunford said, adding that NATO had "made extraordinary progress in mitigating risks to civilians and we will continue to do so."
slk/ccp (AP, AFP, Reuters)