US Commander: Civilian Air Strike Pact Doesn't Ban Their Use

Despite reports, a top U.S. general says NATO troops can still request air strikes in civilian areas.

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Pilot Zack Martin jumps into a helicopter in Afghanistan.

U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan can still call for allied aircraft to drop bombs on enemy forces inside civilian-populated areas, but only as a last resort, says a senior American general.

The Los Angeles Times and New York Times have reported NATO military commanders have agreed to limit the use of air strikes inside residential areas. That agreement came days after an allied strike killed nearly 20 Afghan civilians in eastern Afghanistan.

The agreement senior NATO commanders inked recently with Afghan leaders "doesn't change the R.O.E.," says Army Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, International Security Assistance Force Joint Command chief and deputy commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, referring to troops' rules of engagement.

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U.S. and NATO forces will first use "other means and methods to engage the enemy." If those tactics are all used without success, ground commanders can then request "air-delivered munitions" be dropped on buildings located in civilian areas, Scaparrotti told reporters in Washington via video conference,

The new agreement "does not mean we won't go after insurgents," says Scaparrotti.

Analysts say U.S. and NATO air strikes that wound and kill civilians only hurt the American-led effort there.

One adviser to both the Pentagon and the White House says the United States should take a look at issues like dropping bombs in civilian areas from their hosts' collective perspective.

"The Afghan perspective has little broad sympathy for the Taliban and insurgents, but its view of the United States and our allies is shaped by night raids that kill civilians, air strikes that kill civilians, constant checkpoints and security barriers, detentions, and lower-level clashes and incidents involving International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops, contract security forces, and Afghan civilians and forces that are never reported," Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies wrote in a recent report.

"It is shaped by failed aid projects and resentment of corruption, which Afghans feel is bred by massive foreign spending and uncontrolled contracts," Cordesman wrote. "It is shaped by previous high-profile incidents—the "kill team" platoon that attacked Afghans for sport, the urinating on a Taliban corpse, and the burning of [Korans]."

John T. Bennett covers national security and foreign policy for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact him at jbennett@usnews.com or follow him on Twitter.

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