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KABUL: The commander of US-led forces in Afghanistan said yesterday he would comply with President Hamid Karzai’s order banning Afghan security forces from seeking Nato air support.
Karzai said on Saturday that he would issue a decree ordering an end to local security forces calling in Nato air strikes amid new tensions over civilian casualties caused by such attacks.
Air strikes have been an important weapon in the fight against Taliban insurgents, but they have also proved hugely controversial as they have led to numerous civilian deaths.
US General Joseph Dunford, who took charge of the US-led Nato force in the war-battered country last Sunday, said he was prepared to comply with Karzai’s order, made after a Nato air raid killed 10 civilians including women and children in eastern Afghanistan on Wednesday night. “We are prepared to provide support in line with the president’s intent,” Dunford told reporters in Kabul.
Karzai summoned Dunford over the air raid in Kunar province.
“I get the broad guidance from the president and we will work out the details in the coming days,” Dunford said.
“We have restraints and constraints on each operation. I believe we will continue to support the Afghan National Security Forces and meet the president’s intent,” Dunford said in response to questions about Karzai’s order.
“There are other ways to support the Afghans besides aviation,” he said.
He added that his troops had made “huge progress in mitigating the civilian casualties”.
Nato restricted air strikes on civilian areas in June in the wake of another botched mission which killed 18 civilians, though US Deputy Commander in Afghanistan Lieutenant General Curtis Scaparrotti said they could still be used as a “last resort” to save soldiers’ lives.
Asked yesterday whether Nato troops could still call in air strikes in these circumstances, a spokesman for the coalition declined to comment.