Karzai bans Afghan forces from requesting US, NATO airstrikes

Afghan president Hamid Karzai has banned the country's military from requesting air support from American or NATO forces during anti-Taliban operations in or around residential areas in the country.

“During your operations, don’t call for air support from international forces during operations on residential areas,” Karzai said in a public statement regarding the order, according to the Washington Post.

Karzai, who instituted the ban on Monday, did not provide any specifics regarding what circumstances U.S. or allied airpower could be used in combat operations. 

The move comes days after a coalition airstrike called for by Afghan intelligence officials killed roughly 10 civilians, as well as four Taliban fighters, in Kunar province in southern Afghanistan. 

The decision also comes as U.S. forces are shifting into primarily a support and assistance role in Afghanistan, preparing for the upcoming withdrawal of all American combat troops from the country by 2014. 

That support will consist of training and advising units of the Afghan National Security Forces, as well as providing indirect combat support to those units, which until Monday also included air support. 

Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said on Monday the decision would not affect the White House's roadmap to end America's involvement in Afghanistan by next year. 

Like Karzai, the four-star general provided little detail as to how U.S. commanders would be able to support Afghan forces without vital air support under Kabul's new rules for those operations. 

Despite the ban, U.S. commanders would continue to carry out “effective operations within the president’s guidance" to help Afghan forces drive the Taliban out of the country, he said.

“I believe the support we will provide to the Afghans is exactly consistent with the coalition’s tactical directive,” Dunford added, according to the Post. 

Prior to Monday's announcement from Kabul, U.S. and allied forces were under orders to use air power as a last resort, with an eye toward limiting civilian casualties during those operations. 

However, that order issued by Dunford's predecessor Marine Corps Gen. John Allen did not ban outright the use of airstrikes by American or NATO warplanes. 

During his State of the Union address earlier this month, President Obama announced 34,000 American forces -- over half of the 66,000 remaining U.S. troops in the country -- would be coming home this spring. 

That withdrawal timeline, which was part of Allen's overall withdrawal strategy sent to the Pentagon last year, also falls in line with the White House's decision to accelerate the handover of all security operations in the country to the Afghans by this spring. 

That transition had been scheduled to take place sometime in early 2014 but will now take place this spring. The decision was made after one-on-one talks between Obama and Karzai during the Afghan leader's trip to Washington in January.