NATO to help implement Karzai air strike decree - Dunford
KABUL (Reuters) - NATO will work with the country's defence leadership to implement a ban by President Hamid Karzai on Afghan forces using NATO air strikes in residential areas, the new NATO commander in Afghanistan, U.S. General Joseph Dunford, said on Sunday.
Karzai announced on Saturday that he would issue a decree banning Afghan security forces from requesting NATO air strikes on "Afghan homes or villages", following the deaths of 10 civilians in the eastern province of Kunar last Wednesday.
The NATO air strike had been requested by Afghanistan's intelligence agency, Karzai said on Saturday.
In his first meeting with reporters since assuming command of NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) a week ago, General Dunford said he would work out the details of how to implement Karzai's order.
"We got the broad guidance from the President, and we will work out the details in the coming days," he said at the heavily guarded ISAF headquarters, several hundred metres from Karzai's palace.
Karzai's decree was expected to be issued on Sunday and paralleled a "tactical directive" issued by ISAF in June last year, which forbade international troops from using air strikes against insurgents "within civilian dwellings", Dunford said.
That directive was issued days after 18 civilians were killed during a NATO air strike in eastern Logar province.
A meeting was planned between Dunford, Afghan Defence Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi and Afghan Chief of Army Staff General Sher Mohammad Karimi later on Sunday to discuss the ban's "technical aspects", he said.
NATO air strikes that cause civilian casualties have become a significant stress point in relations between Karzai and his international backers as the United States and Afghanistan enter negotiations about the size of the American presence once most international troops depart by the end of next year.
The limiting of air strikes will place further pressure on the 352,000-strong Afghan security forces as they assume security control from international forces.
Foreign air power is crucial for Afghan forces in areas near Pakistan's border, like Kunar and Nuristan, which are covered with forests and rough terrain, making ground operations difficult.
(Reporting By Dylan Welch; Editing By Ron Popeski)
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