The Two-Way
12:10 pm
Mon June 11, 2012

NATO Adds Limits To Airstrikes On Afghan Homes

The senior allied commander in Afghanistan says airstrikes to residential homes in Afghanistan will be used only in cases of "last resort to rescue soldiers," the AP reports.

The new rules, issed by Gen. John R. Allen and announced by alliance spokespeople, come in response to a NATO attack last week that Afghans said killed 18 civilians.

The AP reports:

"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."

The New York Times, which first reported the story yesterday, said Afghan President Hamid Karzai met with Allen and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker. Karzai, the Times reports, issued a statement after the meeting saying the U.S. had agreed to halt attacks on residential areas period.

The Times adds:

"On Sunday, however, American officials said General Allen's order did not necessarily go that far and sought to describe it in more nuanced terms, saying that NATO would continue to conduct operations against insurgents who use civilian dwellings for shelter.

"'When there is concern over the presence of civilians, air-delivered munitions will not be employed while other means are available,' said a senior United States defense official who was not authorized to speak publicly on the policy deliberations."

Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings gave the AP a slightly more specific explanation of the new policy.

"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," Cummings told the AP.

The wire service explains that previously commanders could order an air strike in a residential home as long as they were confident there were no civilians there.

"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," the AP reports.

As USA Today described it, Wednesday's airstrike was called when NATO and Afghan forces were chasing a Taliban leader in a pre-dawn operation in Logar province. The troops came under fire and an airstrike was called.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.