KABUL, Afghanistan – The new commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan said Sunday he would comply with an intended order by President Hamid Karzai that prohibits Afghan forces from calling in NATO airstrikes on residential areas.
Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., on the job a week, said the international coalition would find other ways to support Afghan ground forces, which frequently depend on NATO air power in their operations against Taliban insurgents.
Karzai announced his planned decree Saturday after 10 civilians, including five women and four children, died in a NATO airstrike Tuesday night reportedly called in by Afghan intelligence operatives in a remote village in eastern Konar province. The air attack on two homes also killed three militant commanders, Afghan officials said.
Karzai has lashed out at the coalition over civilian casualties. NATO says it does its best to limit them. Dunford said Sunday that international forces have made extraordinary progress in mitigating the risk to civilians.
One of Dunford’s challenges is dealing with the mercurial and combative Karzai, who some U.S. officials perceive as ungrateful for the massive support his country has received – mainly from the United States – during the 11-year war, in which 2,177 U.S. troops have died.