Coalition forces in Afghanistan have been ordered not to bomb civilian homes except in cases of self-defense.
Gen. John R. Allen, Commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, issued an order to this effect following a meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Pentagon officials told a news conference on Tuesday.
In the wake of "a few instances of NATO aircraft bombing targets and causing the deaths of innocent civilians," U.S. military leaders will take extra steps to ensure innocent Afghan civilians are not killed or hurt in combat operations, but U.S. forces will retain the means of self-defense, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said.
"The number of events directed against civilian compounds is a very small percentage of events in which air-delivered munitions are used," Little told reporters. At the same time, he insisted that coalition forces will "retain the right of self-defense in Afghanistan for force protection reasons. That's an inherent right, and we will retain that right."
At their regularly scheduled news conference, Little and Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. John Kirby emphasized that NATO forces and Afghan leaders have agreed to limits on close-air support in that country. Coalition officials take seriously the prospect of civilian casualties, they said, and try to limit those to the extent possible.
"Our track record in Afghanistan is very good on this point," Little said.
"Let me make it clear, that when it comes to civilian casualties in Afghanistan, we care about trying to avoid them," he added. "Our enemies don't."
The Taliban and their terrorist allies intentionally inflict harm upon the civilian populations inside Afghanistan, Little alleged. "They are responsible for the large majority of civilian casualties that occur in that country."
This year alone insurgents are responsible for nearly 1,000 civilian casualties in Afghanistan, according to NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) estimates.
ISAF said in a separate statement that Gen. Allen gave the order to coalition forces that no aerial munitions be delivered against civilian dwellings.
Other conventional methods will be deployed against the insurgents, in coordination with Afghan National Security Forces. As always, Afghan and coalition forces retain the inherent right to use aerial munitions in self-defense if no other options are available, the statement added.
Civilian deaths in NATO air-strikes had been a source of tension in the West's security operations in Afghanistan. Afghan government had repeatedly raised concerns over the killing of civilians in pre-emptive raids by foreign forces, who target villagers' houses in the country's southern and eastern provinces in search of suspected insurgents and those who supply them with weapons.
Latest in the series, 18 civilians were killed in an ISAF air-strike in the country's east on June 6. The incident occurred during a joint operation by Afghan and coalition security forces to capture a Taliban leader in Baraki Barak district of Logar province.
ISAF announced an inquiry after Afghan intelligence officials and Tribal elders said the missile strike killed civilians, including women and children, besides killing eight Taliban commanders.
by RTT Staff Writer
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