Air-support ban blamed for Afghan troop casualties
KABUL – A senior Afghan commander on Monday blamed heavy causalities suffered in a battle last week on President Hamid Karzai's ban against calling for NATO airstrikes.
At least 18 soldiers were killed in Warduj district of Badakshan province when their convoy was ambushed.
“The Afghan soldiers called for air support when they were ambushed by the Taliban. We spoke to the NATO troops for help but they told us that the president had banned air support for Afghan troops,” the officer based in northern Afghanistan told dpa on condition of anonymity.
Karzai last month decreed the limitations on NATO air support after one such attack had killed several civilians in Kapisa province.
The commander said the "brave Afghan soldiers" fought the insurgents "until their last bullet."
The Taliban captured 11 soldiers, who were later released at the behest of local tribal elders.
“Badakhshan is a mountainous province. Even a dozen enemy fighters can put thousands of soldiers' lives at risk," the commander said.
"We would have been able to save a lot of those soldiers that day if we had the support of NATO air power for them.”
Civilian causalities caused by airstrikes are a sensitive issue between Karzai and his government’s Western patrons.
The NATO-led troops are set to end their combat missions by the end of 2014, handing over security responsibilities to Afghan troops.
The Afghan Air Force is relatively new and understaffed. The Defence Ministry has also said it lacks sophisticated equipment and air power, including fighter helicopters.
Badakshan in the north-eastern tip of Afghanistan is a relatively peaceful province. But Warduj district has seen an increasing number of attacks and Taliban activities in the past two years.
Local officials say that is due one key Taliban commander who has been forceful in controlling a highway to Tajikistan.
The officials also said the district police chief had abused his authority, which prompted new Taliban recruitment.
The insurgents reportedly bombed a bridge connecting the district with the rest of the province over the weekend, stopping local troops from entering.