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NATO limits airstrikes on Afghan homes

- Associated Press - Monday, June 11, 2012

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The U.S.-led military coalition in Afghanistan is limiting airstrikes against houses to self-defense for troops, following a strike last week that killed women and children alongside insurgents, a spokesman for the alliance said Monday.

Such airstrikes now are being designated a weapon of last resort to rescue soldiers, cutting back their use.

Afghan officials have said that 18 civilians were killed in Wednesday's airstrike against a home in eastern Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai has chastised U.S. forces for failing to consult their Afghan counterparts before calling for an airstrike on the house, where insurgents had taken cover. They discovered that civilians had died the next morning when villagers piled the bodies into vans to display to Afghan officials.

Mr. Karzai demanded in a meeting Saturday night with U.S. Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, the NATO and U.S. forces commander, that the international troops ban all airstrikes on homes.

A spokesman for the alliance, Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings, said Monday that airstrikes were being severely curtailed.

"We will continue to conduct combat operations against insurgents who use civilian dwellings, but we will not use air-delivered munitions against civilian dwellings unless it is a question of self-defense for our troops on the ground," Col. Cummings said.

Commanders previously could order airstrikes against insurgents on houses, as long as they were confident that there were no civilians present. Col. Cummings said that the new restrictions mean commanders will not be able to call in a strike unless it is necessary to save the lives of their troops. This applies even if it is clear there are no civilians in the house.

In addition, he said, NATO forces were in negotiations with Afghan officials about how to involve the Afghan military in decisions on airstrikes. Afghan forces already have had to sign off on joint operations in villages, but there has not been a procedure for involving them in the often split-second decision of when to call in air power.

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