NATO to limit airstrikes in Afghanistan

 An Afghan villager stands at a house hit by a NATO airstrike in Sajawand village in Logar province on Wednesday.

Story highlights

  • NATO to restrict airstrikes against civilian homes
  • Airstrikes won't be used where there's concern about civilian presence, NATO says
  • The shift comes after a fatal strike last week

NATO forces in Afghanistan will no longer use airstrikes against insurgent targets in civilian homes if "other means" to deal with the targets are available, a spokesman said Monday.

Forces "will continue to conduct operations against insurgents who use civilian dwellings, but when there is concern over the presence of civilians; air delivered munitions will not be employed while other means are available," Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings said.

The statement did not elaborate on what other means commanders would use.

The shift comes after an airstrike last week in Logar province that killed 18 people, including women and children. It was the latest of several such strikes that have upset relations between Afghanistan and the United States.

NATO forces said the strike occurred when soldiers returned fire during a mission targeting a Taliban leader. An ISAF spokesman said insurgents were killed and security forces seized weapons and explosives.

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Afghan President Hamid Karzai cut short a trip to China following the strike and summomed the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, to demand an end to the strikes.

"The President said that such kind of operations were against the context of the strategic partnership agreement and Afghanistan wants them to be stopped," the president's office said in a statement Saturday.

The change in policy will not hinder forces from pursuing insurgents, Cummings said.

"This restriction in no way limits our ability to take the fight to the enemy," he said. "Air dropped munitions against civilian dwellings represent a very small percentage of all of our air operations."

In the last six months, 10 of the 3,000 fixed-wing close air support missions flown by NATO involved strikes against civilian dwellings, Cummings said. Seven of those strikes resulted in civilian casualties, he said.