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Nato 'can work with airstrike ban'

The top American commander in Afghanistan said 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.

President Hamid Karzai 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 north-east 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.

Marine General Joseph Dunford told reporters during a briefing that he was working out the details of the ban with Afghanistan's defence minister and military chief.

"This is a sovereign nation and the president is exercising sovereignty," Mr Dunford said, adding that Nato had "made extraordinary progress in mitigating risks to civilians and we will continue to do so".

Mr Dunford said coalition forces believe they can conduct "effective operations within the president's guidance" because it falls within a tactical directive issued last year by his predecessor, Marine General John Allen.

The US-led military coalition said last June that it would limit airstrikes to a self-defence 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 eastern Logar province, which drew an apology from the American commander.

The coalition, however, can still carry out airstrikes on its own accord.

"I believe the support we will provide to the Afghans is exactly consistent with the coalition's tactical directive," Mr Dunford said.

The UN mission in Afghanistan said 83 civilians were killed and 46 wounded in aerial attacks by international military forces in the first half of 2012. That figure was down 23% from the same period of 2011 - the deadliest year on record for civilians in the Afghan war. It said two-thirds of the casualties last year were women and children and insurgents were responsible for the overwhelming majority of the deaths.


From Belfast Telegraph