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NATO 'will comply with Afghan air strike ban'
by Staff Writers
Kabul (AFP) Feb 17, 2013

Gunmen attack NATO convoy, kill two in Pakistan
Peshawar, Pakistan (AFP) Feb 18, 2013 - Gunmen in a restive Pakistani tribal region on Monday attacked a convoy of vehicles carrying military equipment bound for NATO operations in Afghanistan, killing two people, officials said.

The convoy of some 25 vehicles came under attack after it got stuck in a traffic jam in Landi Kotal town in the Khyber tribal region.

"At least three unidentified gunmen opened fire on the convoy, killing a driver and his helper and damaging two vehicles," senior local administration official Shakil Burki told AFP.

He said the gunmen fled after the attack, adding that one person in the convoy was also injured.

A senior local police official confirmed the incident and casualty toll.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the assault, but Pakistani Taliban have often attacked NATO convoys.

Khyber is one of the seven semi-autonomous northwestern tribal regions where Pakistani military has launched a series of operations against Taliban and Al-Qaeda linked militants.

Washington considers the tribal belt the main hub of Taliban and Al-Qaeda rebels plotting attacks on the West and in Afghanistan.

Afghan forces banned from calling NATO air strikes: Karzai
Kabul (AFP) Feb 16, 2013 - Afghan ground forces will be barred from calling in NATO air strikes after an attack killed a number of children this week, President Hamid Karzai said Saturday.

"I issue a decree, from tomorrow none of the Afghan forces are allowed to ask for foreign air support under any conditions," he said in an address to young officers at a military academy in Kabul.

"Our forces ask for air support from foreigners and children get killed in an air strike," he said.

This was apparently a reference to an attack during an overnight raid by combined Afghan and NATO ground forces on a Taliban hideout in a remote eastern region on Wednesday.

Initial reports said 10 civilians, including five children and four women, were killed when the air strike was called in.

Three Taliban commanders, including a notorious Al-Qaeda-linked militant leader called Shahpoor, were also killed in the raid, Afghan officials said.

Civilian casualties caused by NATO forces fighting Taliban Islamist insurgents are a highly sensitive issue and are regularly condemned by Karzai.

"We are happy the foreign troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan," he said, referring to the scheduled withdrawal of US-led NATO combat troops by the end of next year.

"I have been arguing with the foreign troops, don't bombard our houses, don't go to our villages, don't disrespect our people. And we hear our forces partnered with foreign forces are violating human rights."

Karzai said Afghan forces would be able to defend the country after the foreign troops withdraw.

"I agree we are passing through a challenging phase, but we are the owners of this country.

"America is not the owner of this country, Pakistan is not the owner of this country, Germany is not the owner of this country, France is not the owner of this country.

"And fortunately, we will show to the world that we can protect our country, and we can defend our country."

More than 3,200 NATO troops, mostly Americans, have died in support of Karzai's government in the 11-year war since the Taliban were ousted by a US invasion in 2001, but relations between the president and the US are often prickly.

The commander of US-led forces in Afghanistan said Sunday he would comply with President Hamid Karzai's order banning Afghan security forces from seeking NATO air support.

Karzai said on Saturday that he would issue a decree ordering an end to local security forces calling in NATO air strikes amid new tensions over civilian casualties caused by such attacks.

Air strikes have been an important weapon in the fight against Taliban insurgents, but they have also proved hugely controversial as they have led to numerous civilian deaths.

US General Joseph Dunford, who took charge of the US-led NATO force in the war-battered country last Sunday, said he was prepared to comply with Karzai's order, made after a NATO air raid killed 10 civilians including women and children in eastern Afghanistan on Wednesday night.

"We are prepared to provide support in line with the president's intent," Dunford told reporters in Kabul.

Karzai summoned Dunford over the air raid in Kunar province.

"I get the broad guidance from the president and we will work out the details in the coming days," Dunford said.

"We have restraints and constraints on each operation. I believe we will continue to support the ANSF (Afghan National Security Forces) and meet the president's intent," Dunford said in response to questions about Karzai's order.

"There are other ways to support the Afghans besides aviation," he said.

He added that his troops had made "huge progress in mitigating the civilian casualties".

NATO restricted air strikes on civilian areas in June in the wake of another botched mission which killed 18 civilians, though US deputy commander in Afghanistan Lieutenant General Curtis Scaparrotti said they could still be used as a "last resort" to save soldiers' lives.

Asked on Sunday whether NATO troops could still call in air strikes in these circumstances, a spokesman for the coalition declined to comment.

Civilian casualties caused by military operations are a sensitive issue in Afghanistan where Dunford is leading more than 100,000 US and NATO troops to defeat a Taliban-led insurgency.

For the past 11 years NATO's vast fleet of fighter jets, attack helicopters, unmanned drones and transport aircraft have supported ground troops in operations against the Taliban.

Last year coalition aircraft in Afghanistan flew 28,640 close air support sorties, firing weapons 4,082 times, according to official figures. Drones fired 494 times.

Afghanistan's own poorly equipped air force has no fixed-wing attack aircraft and is not capable of providing firepower to support ground troops.

A Western security source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the new ban would make the fight against the militants much harder.

"With no air strikes things will probably be a lot more complicated," he told AFP.

"The challenge in Afghanistan is the extreme mobility of the enemy. If you want to go after him into his hideouts, it's very difficult to do on foot or by four-wheel drive.

"If air strikes are eventually banned, it's a good victory for the Taliban -- without air power you have to chase after them."

The bulk of NATO's 100,000 combat troops are due to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014 and Western governments are keen to stress Afghan forces' capabilities, but the loss of air cover will leave them more vulnerable.


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