No Afghan help for residential air strikes - Karzai

Afghan President Hamid Karzai (16 Feb) Mr Karzai said a decree would be issued on Sunday

Afghan security forces are to be banned from calling for foreign air strikes in residential areas, President Hamid Karzai has said.

Mr Karzai said he would issue a decree on Sunday, less than a week after 10 civilians were killed in a night raid in the eastern province of Kunar.

Nato-led forces in Afghanistan are not expected to make a formal response until the full decree has been issued.

Civilian casualties are a source of tension between Afghan and Nato forces.

"I will issue a decree [on Sunday] that no Afghan security forces, in any circumstances can ask for the foreigners' planes for carrying out operations on our homes and villages,'' Mr Karzai said in a speech at the Afghan National Military Academy in Kabul.

"Our forces ask for air support from foreigners and children get killed in an air strike," he added.

Analysis

President Karzai's move takes away an important weapon in Afghan forces' armoury, but one whose use has often proved controversial and sometimes counter-productive.

American and British air strikes were used to dislodge the Taliban from power in Afghanistan in 2001. Later on, as more US and British ground forces were sent as part of the wider Nato mission, troops under attack called in air strikes more frequently - several times a day across the country - to help them in battles against insurgents.

But the number of Afghan civilians - including children - killed in air strikes has made them a deeply divisive weapon, just as likely to drive villagers to support the insurgents.

And by 2014, when Nato forces end their combat mission, local forces will have little or no recourse to air power, as the Afghan air force isn't ready.

So President Karzai may be hoping to reap some political credit at home while he can, ahead of the time Afghan forces will have to fight on without Nato air power to help them.

Limited strength

Nato troops are scheduled to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 and have gradually been handing over responsibility for security to their Afghan counterparts.

Mr Karzai said Afghans were "happy" about the withdrawal.

"We are happy for all their help and assistance so far, but we do not need foreign forces to defend our country. We want our Afghan forces to defend their homeland," he said.

The BBC's Karen Allen, in Kabul, says Afghan forces now lead 90% of all security operations.

Yet the Afghan air force has limited strength, so Nato air support is considered crucial, especially for operations in harsh terrain and mountainous areas, our correspondent says.

Most of the 10 civilians killed in the 13 February air strike on Kunar were women and children.

Four Taliban fighters also died in the attack, in the Shegal district of Kunar, which borders Pakistan. The Afghan army said the dead men had links to al-Qaeda.

Mr Karzai said he had been told the air strike was requested by Afghan forces.

"If this is true, it is very regrettable and it is very shameful. How could they ask foreigners to send planes and bomb our own houses?" he said.

"I agree we are passing through a challenging phase, but we are the owners of this country... and fortunately, we will show to the world that we can protect our country," said President Karzai.

The deaths in Kunar came just after US President Barack Obama confirmed plans for the withdrawal of about half the 66,000 US troops in Afghanistan by early 2014.

Afghan civilian casualties

Figures cover deaths caused by Isaf/Afghan security forces and by insurgents

  • 2007: 1,523
  • 2008: 2,118
  • 2009: 2,412
  • 2010: 2,790
  • 2011: 3,021
  • Jan-June 2012: 1,145

Source: Unama

Last year a US drone attack in the same area killed Mullah Dadullah, a high-ranking Pakistani Taliban commander.

Civilian casualties rose sharply in every year from 2008 to 2011, though they fell in the first half of 2012, according to figures from the UN mission in Afghanistan.

The figures cover deaths caused both by Nato forces, allied with government troops, and by insurgents.

A UN report earlier this month accused the US of killing hundreds of children in air strikes over the past four years.

The number of child casualties had doubled in 2010-2011 due to a "lack of precautionary measures and use of indiscriminate force", the study found.

The Nato-led Isaf force called the claims "categorically unfounded" and "false".

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