NATO says it has agreed to restrict the use of airstrikes in Afghan residential areas following last week's deadly strike in the east that Afghan officials say killed 18 civilians.
Coalition officials told reporters Monday that troops would continue to conduct operations against insurgents who hide in residential compounds but that "when there is concern over the presence of civilians, air-delivered bombs will not be employed while other means are available."
The deputy commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Lieutenant General Curtis Scaporrotti, said the new guidance does not change the rules of engagement. Via videoconference he told reporters at the Pentagon that American forces "will still have the right of self defense against hostile acts or intent" and that troops will have the option of calling in airstrikes when no other options are available.
The statement comes a day after Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the commander of U.S. and NATO forces, General John Allen, pledged to end airstrikes in residential areas during a meeting about the deadly airstrike in Logar.
On Friday, General Allen traveled to the province's Baraki Barak district and apologized for the NATO airstrike that Afghan officials say killed 18 civilians, including women and children. NATO said it had been pursuing a Taliban leader during the June 6 operation.
President Karzai condemned the incident and said any airstrike that kills civilians or damages their property is neither justified nor acceptable.
The U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) on Monday welcomed the decision to restrict the use of airstrikes on Afghan civilian locations. UNAMA's spokeswoman Nilab Mobarez and AIHRC's spokeswoman Sharifa Shahab told VOA Dari radio the move could reduce civilian casualties and ease tensions in the war-torn country.
In April, U.S. and Afghan officials signed an agreement putting Afghans in charge of special operations, including controversial night raids on Afghan homes that have been a major source of contention between the two sides.
International combat forces are in the process of withdrawing from Afghanistan and transferring security responsibility to their Afghan counterparts by the end of 2014.
Also Monday, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who is on a two-day visit to Kabul, reaffirmed France's deadline to pull its troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year - a year earlier than Paris initially planned. The minister met with troops in the eastern province of Kapisa, where four French soldiers were killed Saturday.
Separately, Afghanistan's Interior Ministry said a roadside bomb Monday killed a pregnant woman in northern Sar-e-Pul province who was being rushed to a hospital in an ambulance. Officials say the blast also killed at least three of woman's relatives.
The Taliban regularly use improvised roadside bombs to target Afghan and international forces.