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US Will Restrict Afghan Air Strikes to Reduce Civilian Casualties

By VOA News
23 June 2009

The new U.S. commander in Afghanistan says he will sharply restrict the use of air strikes in an effort to reduce civilian casualties in the fight against Taliban militants.

General Stanley McChrystal has told The New York Times newspaper that in most cases, air strikes will only be used in Afghanistan to prevent U.S. and other coalition troops from being overrun by adversaries.

The tactic is part of the Obama administration's new strategy to tackle an increasingly deadly insurgency that has spread from Afghanistan into neighboring Pakistan.

Civilian casualties in counter-insurgency operations have hurt U.S. and NATO efforts to win the support of local Afghans, and turned some in support of the militants. Afghan leaders have pressed for months for foreign troops to end air strikes and nighttime house raids, which are frequently blamed for civilian deaths.

A U.S. military spokesman, Rear Adm. Greg Smith is quoted by the Associated Press as saying that McChrystal also will issue new rules to U.S. and NATO forces about fighting with militants who are hiding in Afghan houses.

A U.S. official said Monday that President Barack Obama's national security adviser will be traveling to Afghanistan and Pakistan to review the administration's new strategy.

A White House spokesman, Mike Hammer, said General Jim Jones will be meeting with top officials in Kabul and Islamabad and also will visit India. No dates for Jones' trip have yet been disclosed.

In Afghanistan Monday, authorities said back-to-back explosions killed as many as eight civilians in Khost. In the same eastern province, NATO says its troops shot and killed an Afghan civilian in his car after he failed to heed a warning to stop.

Hours earlier, the Taliban claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed three Afghan soldiers in southern Kandahar province.

In the nearby province of Nangarhar, an explosion went off at an ammunition storage area Monday, killing a child and wounding 20 others. Authorities are investigating whether the explosion was an accident.

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