US general ‘confident’ over Afghan joint force

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The top American commander in Afghanistan believes the US-led Nato coalition can operate effectively despite the Afghan president’s decision to ban Afghan security forces from requesting airstrikes in residential areas.

President Hamid Karzai said he decided on the ban after Afghan security services asked the US military for an airstrike during a joint Afghan-Nato operation last week. Afghan officials said the airstrike killed ten civilians, including women and children, in north-east Kunar province, along with four insurgents.

The death of civilians during military operations, particularly in airstrikes, has been among the most divisive issues of the 11-year-old war, but the Afghan military relies heavily on air support to gain an upper hand in the fight against Taleban militants and other insurgents.

Marine General Joseph Dunford said during a briefing yesterday that he was working out the details of the ban with Afghanistan’s defence minister and military chief.

“This is a sovereign nation and the president is exercising sovereignty,” Mr Dunford said.

Mr Dunford said coalition forces believe they can conduct “effective operations within the president’s guidance” because it falls within a tactical directive issued last year by his predecessor, Marine General John Allen.

The US-led military coalition said last June that it would limit air strikes to a self-defence weapon of last resort for troops and would avoid hitting structures that could house civilians. That followed a bombardment that killed 18 civilians celebrating a wedding in eastern Logar province, which drew an apology from the American commander.

The coalition, however, can still carry out airstrikes on its own accord.