The senior allied commander in Afghanistan has ordered new restrictions on airstrikes against Taliban fighters who hide in residential homes, coalition officials said Sunday (June 10, 2012), a move in response to a NATO attack in the eastern part of the country last week that Afghan officials say killed 18 civilians….Officials said the directive from Gen. John R. Allen, the commander for international and United States forces in Afghanistan, underscores NATO’s existing commitment to protecting civilians…On Sunday, however, American officials said General Allen’s order did not necessarily go that far and sought to describe it in more nuanced terms, saying that NATO would continue to conduct operations against insurgents who use civilian dwellings for shelter. “When there is concern over the presence of civilians, air-delivered munitions will not be employed [ONLY] while other means are available,” said a senior United States defense official who was not authorized to speak publicly on the policy deliberations. Militants often hide in civilian homes, so a complete ban on airstrikes could hinder the ability of American forces to pursue the Taliban. General Allen’s order does not affect ground operations against insurgents. An agreement between the two countries in April gave lead authority for night raids to the Afghans, although missions are to be conducted jointly and targets selected by consensus. Allied officials still retain control over dropping bombs in these operations, and Afghan officials say they were not involved in the decision to carry out the fatal airstrike last week.
The joint Afghan-NATO raid last week was hunting a Taliban commander and some of his fighters who had holed up in a home in Logar Province where a wedding had taken place, according to local residents. An early-morning firefight broke out between the coalition troops and the insurgents, with the civilians trapped inside. The coalition decided to call in an airstrike, which killed the insurgents but also 18 civilians, including 9 children, Afghan officials said. On Friday, General Allen apologized for the civilian deaths and took the unusual step of meeting with the relatives of some of those killed……
General Allen’s directive comes nearly two years after Gen. David H. Petraeus, upon assuming command of international forces in Afghanistan, issued new guidelines on the use of force in Afghanistan that expanded restrictions on artillery strikes and aerial bombardment, but clarified that troops had the right to self-defense. Troops widely complained that restrictions put in place by General Petraeus’s predecessor, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, exposed them to excessive risk by tying their hands when they sought to attack people suspected of being militants or destroy buildings used to harbor insurgents. But General McChrystal’s rules were popular with Afghan officials, including President Karzai, and human rights advocates, who said the restrictions had significantly reduced Afghan civilian deaths.
On Sunday (June 10, 2012), human rights advocates expressed wariness about whether General Allen’s orders would have an immediate impact. “We’ve seen improvements in detention-related abuses and excessive force at checkpoints, but when it comes to civilian casualties, we’re still seeing tragic incidents, even today,” said John Sifton, Human Rights Watch’s advocacy director for Asia.
ERIC SCHMITT, Allies Restrict Airstrikes on Taliban in Civilian Homes, NY Times, June 10, 2012
On Tuesday June 12, 2012, NATO said that Allen had issued an order telling U.S. and coalition forces “that no aerial munitions be delivered against civilian dwellings.”But the statement also contained this caveat: “As always, Afghan and coalition forces retain the inherent right to use aerial munitions in self-defense if no other options are available.”
At a Pentagon news conference on Tuesday, officials repeated the policy outlined by Allen but denied it differed greatly from Karzai’s.-