February 16, 2013 8:57:45 PM
KABUL, Afghanistan -- Angry over civilian deaths, President Hamid Karzai announced plans Saturday to ban Afghan security forces from requesting international airstrikes on residential areas.
If he issues the decree as promised, the move would pose a significant new challenge to government troops who have relied heavily on foreign air power to give them an advantage against insurgents on the battlefield even as the U.S. and other countries prepare to end their combat mission in less than two years.
The declaration came as anger mounted over a joint Afghan-NATO operation this week that Afghan officials said killed 10 civilians, including women and children, in northeast Kunar province.
"I will issue a decree tomorrow that no Afghan security forces, in any circumstances, in any circumstances can ask for the foreigners' planes for carrying out operations on our homes and villages," Karzai said in a speech at the Afghan National Military Academy in Kabul.
Civilian deaths at the hands of foreign forces, particularly airstrikes, have been among the most divisive issues of the 11-year-old war and have complicated negotiations for a bilateral security agreement that would govern the foreign presence in the country after 2014.
The U.S.-led coalition has implemented measures to mitigate them, but the Afghan military also relies heavily on air support to gain an upper hand in the fight against Taliban militants and other insurgents.