NATO limits airstrikes on Afghan homes

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

Though airstrikes on homes are a small part of the international operations in Afghanistan, they have brewed resentment among Afghans, even when there are no casualties, because of the sense that homes and privacy have been violated.

Civilian deaths from such operations have threatened to derail the Afghan-U.S. alliance.

A pact signed by the Afghan government and the U.S. military in April putting Afghans in charge of joint raids in villages was supposed to ease these tensions, but the aftermath of Wednesday’s airstrike against a home in eastern Afghanistan has shown that the Americans are still making the decisions on the ground.

Afghan officials have said that 18 civilians were killed in the strike. President Hamid Karzai rebuked U.S. forces for failing to consult their Afghan counterparts before calling for an airstrike in the house where insurgents had taken cover. NATO discovered that civilians had died the next morning when villagers piled the bodies into vans to display to Afghan officials.

Karzai demanded in a meeting Saturday night with NATO and U.S. forces commander Gen. John Allen 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 conduction 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,” Cummings said.

Commanders previously could order airstrikes against insurgents on houses, as long as they were confident that there were no civilians present. Cummings says 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.

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