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Originally published February 16, 2013 at 4:33 PM | Page modified February 16, 2013 at 5:48 PM

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Afghan leader says he’ll ban airstrike requests

The declaration came as anger mounted over a joint Afghan-NATO operation last week that Afghan officials said killed 10 civilians, including women and children, in northeast Kunar province.

The Associated Press

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KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Saturday that he would issue a decree forbidding his military forces from turning to NATO or U.S. forces to conduct airstrikes on residential areas and condemned the use of torture on detainees by his security forces.

The declaration came as anger mounted over a joint Afghan-NATO operation last week that Afghan officials said killed 10 civilians, including women and children, in northeast Kunar province.

“I will issue a decree tomorrow that no Afghan security forces, in any circumstances, in any circumstances can ask for the foreigners’ planes for carrying out operations on our homes and villages,” Karzai said in a speech at the Afghan National Military Academy in Kabul.

The move would pose a significant new challenge to government troops, who have relied heavily on foreign air power to give them an advantage against insurgents and comes as the U.S. and other countries prepare to end their combat missions.

Civilian deaths at the hands of foreign forces, particularly airstrikes, have been among the most divisive issues of the 11-year war and have complicated negotiations for a security agreement that would govern the foreign presence in the country after 2014.

The U.S.-led coalition has implemented measures to mitigate civilian deaths, but the Afghan military also relies heavily on air support to gain an upper hand in the fight against Taliban militants and other insurgents.

Many Afghan and international officials have expressed concern that the impending withdrawal of international-combat forces by the end of 2014 will deprive government-security forces of that crucial weapon. President Obama has said he will withdraw about half of the 66,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan within a year.

Karzai has frequently denounced airstrikes and demanded that they cease. But Saturday was the first time he threatened to formalize his concern with a decree.

The U.S.-led military coalition said in June that it would limit airstrikes to a self-defense weapon of last resort for troops. That followed a bombardment that killed 18 civilians celebrating a wedding in Logar province, which drew an apology from the American commander.

Afghan and coalition officials frequently offer differing accounts of military operations, with local residents claiming civilians were killed while foreign troops insist they targeted insurgents. The line is often blurred because insurgents don’t wear a uniform and are usually part of the community, with airstrikes and night raids hitting areas where women and children also are asleep.

The U.N. mission in Afghanistan said 83 civilians were killed and 46 wounded in aerial attacks by international-military forces in the first half of 2012. That figure was down 23 percent from the same period of 2011, which was the deadliest year on record for civilians in the Afghan war. It said two-thirds of the casualties last year were women and children.

Jamie Graybeal, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, declined to comment on Karzai’s remarks.

Karzai said Afghan forces were ready to take over their own security despite concerns about persistent violence that have cast doubt on their capabilities.

“We are happy that foreign forces are withdrawing from our country,” he said. “We are happy for all their help and assistance so far, but we don’t need foreign forces to defend our country. We want our Afghan forces to defend their homeland.”

Material from The New York Times is included in this report.

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