NATO air strikes for Afghan security forces must end: Karzai
By Mirwais Harooni
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan security forces will be banned from calling for NATO air strikes in residential areas to help in their operations, President Hamid Karzai said on Saturday, three days after 10 civilians died in such a strike in the country's east.
NATO air strikes and civilian casualties have become a significant stress point in the relationship between Karzai and his international backers. The issue threatens to further destabilize a precarious international withdrawal, to be completed by the end of 2014.
Addressing a conference at Kabul's National Military Academy, Karzai expressed his anger about the strike and said he would issue a decree on Sunday preventing any resort to such measures by his forces.
"Tomorrow, I will issue an decree stating that under no conditions can Afghan forces request foreign air strikes on Afghan homes or Afghan villages during operations," Karzai told more than 1,000 officers, commandos and students.
If issued, such a decree would for the first time bar Afghan security forces from relying on NATO air strikes, and increase pressure on them as they increasingly assume control of security from international forces.
NATO and its partners are racing against the clock to train Afghanistan's 350,000-strong security forces, though questions remain over how they well the Afghans will be able to tackle the insurgency in the face of intensifying violence.
On Wednesday, a NATO air strike -- requested during an operation in eastern Kunar province involving Afghan and American troops targeting Taliban fighters linked to al Qaeda -- struck two houses in a village in the Shultan valley.
The strike killed 10 people, including five children and four women. Four Taliban fighters, who had links to al Qaeda, according to Afghan officials, were also killed. Continued...