Isaf Backs Karzai's Ban on Air Support for Afghan Raids

News - Afghanistan


Isaf's new commander in Afghanistan said the coalition supports President Hamid Karzai's ban on the Afghan army calling for Isaf air support during military operations, giving an assurance that the operations can still be effective.

Gen Joseph Dunford told a group of senior reporters Sunday morning that the US-led foreign troops will continue to support the missions within the new framework declared by Karzai on Saturday.

"We are prepared to provide support in line with the president's intent," he said, adding that he will meet with Defence Minister Bismillah Mohammedi and Chief of Army Staff Gen Sher Mohammad Karimi at midday to discuss the "technical" aspects of how the president's directive would work.

"Keep in mind that there are other ways we can support our Afghan partners other than air ordnance," he said. "I believe we will provide the support to the Afghan forces consistent with the coalition tactical directive."

Dunford, who only took charge of the Afghan mission a week ago, pointed out that the Afghan army for its part will also have to factor the directive into their operations.

"It's not about what happens in the middle of operations, it's how you plan operations. What the Afghan security forces will do is plan their operations to factor that guidance in. I am confident we can continue to conduct effective operations within the president's guidance," he said, adding that the details will be worked out in the coming days.

Karzai said Saturday that the Afghan army can no longer call for air support during military operations after at least 10 civilians were reportedly killed last week in a Nato airstrike during a joint Afghan-coalition night raid in eastern Kunar province.

It is not the first time that an airstrike has mistakenly killed a number of civilians.

Former Afghan intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh backed the president's decision and urged for air missions to only be carried out against possible threats from outside the country and not in Afghan civilian areas.

"It is not necessary for a small mission to expect jets to bombard an area. Even if there is a tactical success after it, there will be a big strategic loss resulting. If civilians are killed, there will be a larger gap between the people and the government and this is harmful," Saleh told TOLOnews Sunday.

But the decision received some criticism from at least one political party which suggested it will give the insurgency more strength in the villages.

"The president has almost legitimatised the Taliban. Our ground troops cannot fight the Taliban – they are not as equipped as the Taliban. This means that the Taliban will gradually take over villages and then districts," the leader of the National Front Ahmad Zia Massoud said Sunday.

Civilian harm has been one of the most controversial issues between Afghanistan and Nato.

It was civilian casualties that led the Karzai government to push for Afghans to take control of military night raids in a signed agreement last year. It is also one of the reasons that Karzai has frequently voiced his desire to see foreign forces withdrawn from outposts in provincial villages.

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