KABUL — The new restrictions by NATO on the use of air power in Afghanistan have failed to mollify President Hamid Karzai, who demanded Tuesday that the coalition cease all bombings of Afghan homes, even by forces acting in self-defense.
“Even when they are under attack, they cannot use an airplane to bomb Afghan homes. Even when they’re under attack,” an emphatic Karzai told a news conference in the presidential palace in Kabul.
Karzai said he had an argument with Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, over the weekend about the issue, following a deadly airstrike that killed civilians in Logar province. “I said, ‘Do you do this in the United States?’ There is police action every day in the United States in various localities. They don’t call an airplane to bomb the place.”
Allen issued new orders this week restricting the use of airstrikes on civilian dwellings in response to the Logar deaths and continued criticism by Karzai. U.S. military officials said commanders will be instructed to use other means to get Taliban fighters out of homes and buildings rather than calling in airstrikes. Civilian homes have been damaged by airstrikes 32 times so far this year, according to U.S. military statistics.
“President Karzai and I had an opportunity to have a conversation,” Allen told reporters Monday during a trip to Zabul province in southeastern Afghanistan. “We consulted about the application of certain kinds of fires, and we agreed that we would not apply air fires to civilian dwellings.”
But Allen and other U.S. military officials say the troops still have a right to resort to such weapons in emergencies and when they need to protect themselves. Allen said the new restrictions do not “obviate our inherent right to self-defense.”
But Karzai called for a blanket prohibition on bombings from the air.
“Airplanes are not to be used in civilian areas,” he said. “If they don’t do it in their own country, why do they do it in Afghanistan? It’s just completely banned. Absolutely banned. Absolutely.”