Critics expressed worries Monday that a presidential order barring Afghan security forces from requesting international airstrikes during operations in residential areas could hobble government troops even as they prepare to take over full responsibility for security in the country from international forces.
Underscoring the troops’ dependence on warplanes and helicopters, the U.S.-led coalition said Monday that an airstrike last week killed an Afghan soldier-turned-insurgent who was feted by the Taliban for killing an American soldier during an insider attack last year.
President Hamid Karzai officially issued the order Monday, two days after promising to do so amid anger over a NATO airstrike requested by the national intelligence service that local officials said killed at least 10 civilians and four insurgents.
The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, said he believes the American-led NATO coalition can operate effectively despite the ban.
Afghans currently lead about 90 percent of military operations nationwide and will take charge fully in the spring, a key step in the plan to withdraw U.S. and other foreign combat forces by the end of 2014. However, they remain heavily dependent on the coalition for air support and medical evacuations in areas where the Taliban and other militants live among the population and often enjoy local support.
The ban also runs counter to Afghan requests for NATO to supply their security forces with aircraft capable of carrying out airstrikes. The Afghan military repeatedly has implored the United States for jet fighters, such as F-16s, tanks, artillery and other heavy weapons.
Some analysts said the ban on airstrikes against residential areas would limit the Afghan forces’ effectiveness and could prompt the savvy Taliban to use it by increasingly taking shelter among civilians in cities and villages.
“We don’t have the ability to support our forces on the ground,” said former Afghan Gen. Amrullah Aman.