Top US general says he can work with airstrike ban

AP, KABUL

Mon, Feb 18, 2013 - Page 1

The top US commander in Afghanistan said yesterday that he believes the US-led NATO coalition can operate effectively, despite the Afghan president’s decision to ban Afghan security forces from requesting airstrikes in residential areas.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Saturday said he decided on the ban after Afghan security services asked the US military for an airstrike during a joint Afghan-NATO operation last week. Afghan officials said the airstrike killed 10 civilians, including women and children, in Kunar Province, along with four insurgents.

The death of civilians during military operations, particularly in airstrikes, has been among the most divisive issues of the 11-year-old war. The US-led coalition has implemented measures to mitigate them, but the Afghan military also relies heavily on air support to gain an upper hand in the fight against Taliban militants and other insurgents.

International Security Assistance Force Commander General Joseph Dunford told reporters during a briefing that he was working out the details of the ban with Afghanistan’s defense minister and military chief.

“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.”

Dunford said coalition forces believe they can conduct “effective operations within the president’s guidance” because it falls within a directive issued last year by his predecessor, General John Allen.

The US-led military coalition said in June last year that it would limit airstrikes to a self-defense weapon of last resort for troops and would avoid hitting structures that could house civilians. That followed a bombardment that killed 18 civilians celebrating a wedding in Logar Province, which drew an apology from the US commander.