Karzai to limit use of NATO airstrikes

The Washington Post Sunday - - THE WORLD - BY RICHARD LEIBY leibyr@wash­post.com

kabul — Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai an­nounced Satur­day he in­tends to ban Afghan ground forces from call­ing in NATO airstrikes on res­i­den­tial ar­eas — even though his coun­try’s fight­ers have had to rely in the past on such air power in op­er­a­tions against Tal­iban mil­i­tants.

“Our forces ask for air sup­port from for­eign­ers and chil­dren get killed in an airstrike,” Karzai said in a speech at a mil­i­tary academy here, re­in­forc­ing his of­ten tru­cu­lent pos­ture to­ward the U.S.-backed in­ter­na­tional coali­tion that has long sup­ported his government.

Ten civil­ians, in­clud­ing five women and four chil­dren, died in a NATO airstrike Tues­day night in a re­mote vil­lage in east­ern Ku­nar province that also killed three mil­i­tant com­man­ders, one of them linked to alQaeda, Afghan of­fi­cials said.

NATO launched an in­ves­ti­ga­tion, and Gen. Joseph F. Dun­ford Jr., the new com­man­der of U.S. and in­ter­na­tional forces here, met with Karzai to ex­press con­do­lences for civil­ian ca­su­al­ties, ac­cord­ing to state­ments last week from the pres­i­den­tial palace and the al­liance.

The Afghan leader said he would is­sue a de­cree Sun­day “stat­ing that un­der no con­di­tions can Afghan forces re­quest for­eign airstrikes on Afghan homes or Afghan vil­lages dur­ing op­er­a­tions.”

Be­cause Afghanistan has only an in­cip­i­ent air force, NATO must fill the void to pro­tect its own troops and Afghanistan’s — even while fend­ing off Karzai’s re­peated ac­cu­sa­tions that it is some­how in­dif­fer­ent to civil­ian deaths.

A former Afghan gen­eral, Am­rul­lah Aman, re­acted with sur­prise to Karzai’s re­marks in an in­ter­view with the As­so­ci­ated Press.

“In a coun­try like Afghanistan, where you don’t have heavy ar­tillery and you don’t have air forces to sup­port sol­diers on the ground, how will it be pos­si­ble to de­feat an en­emy that knows the area well and can hide any­where?” Aman said. “There must be air sup­port to help all those ground forces on the bat­tle­field.” NATO de­clined to com­ment. Many an­a­lysts con­tinue to ex­press doubt about the ca­pac­ity of the coun­try’s de­ser­tion-prone na­tional po­lice and mil­i­tary forces to hold their own against the Tal­iban af­ter NATO ends its com­bat mis­sion at the end of 2014.

As they step up train­ing Afghan forces to as­sume re­spon­si­bil­ity for the coun­try’s de­fense, West­ern troops are con­cur­rently ac­cel­er­at­ing their with­drawal, in part at Karzai’s in­sis­tence. Pres­i­dent Obama has or­dered half the re­main­ing 66,000 U.S. troops here to de­part within a year.

Last June, af­ter a NATO air at­tack killed 18 civil­ians, Dun­ford’s pre­de­ces­sor, Gen. John Allen, re­stricted the use of strikes against sus­pected mil­i­tants “within civil­ian dwellings.”

The cir­cum­stances of the lat­est at­tack are not en­tirely known, at least not pub­licly, but Afghan of­fi­cials said it oc­curred dur­ing a com­bined Amer­i­can-Afghan raid and two homes were hit by ae­rial mu­ni­tions.

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