U.S. to Limit Air Power in Afghanistan; Strategy Aims to Avoid Civilian Deaths in Strikes

Article excerpt

Byline: Jason Motlagh, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Sobered by the backlash from civilian casualties, the U.S. military is taking steps to tighten restrictions on the use of air power over Afghanistan.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the new U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, will order U.S. and NATO forces to break away from engagements with militants who are hiding among villagers as part of a comprehensive tactical directive, a coalition official said Tuesday.

It will cover all the aspects that can make a difference to improve security for the Afghan people and make the use of force as safe as possible given an enemy that is on purpose trying to cause death to civilians, said Brig. Gen. Richard Blanchette, chief spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

This evolution reflects an understanding that the Taliban's strategy includes intentionally staging attacks that will lead to civilian casualties, he said, while pointing out the directive is the latest of many that show the coalition is a learning organization.

The order, first reported by the New York Times, amounts to one of the most concrete U.S. efforts to date to protect backcountry Afghans from harm and reverse backsliding public support for the counterinsurgency effort.

Air power contains the seeds of our own destruction if we do not use it responsibly, Gen. McChrystal told a group of senior officers during a video conference last week, according to the paper. We can lose this fight.

An unclassified report released by the military conceded that a failure by U.S. forces to follow strict operational procedures in air strikes early last month in western Afghanistan's Farah province likely caused the death of at least 26 civilians, adding that the actual toll will never be determined. …