Five NATO soldiers have been killed in a helicopter crash in southern Afghanistan, the NATO-led security mission ISAF has said.
Five NATO soldiers have been killed in a helicopter crash in southern Afghanistan
ISAF gave no further details, saying in a statement that it was still reviewing the circumstances of the crash. The nationalities of the soldiers are unknown at this stage.
Afghan officials said the helicopter had come down in Kandahar province because of a mechanical failure.
Foreign forces are due to hand over responsibility for security to their Afghan counterparts at the end of 2014.
Fatal incidents involving foreign troops have declined as they prepare for the withdrawal.
However, such crashes have been relatively frequent over the years because coalition forces depend heavily on air transport.
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President Hamid Karzai has announced that Afghan security forces are to be banned from calling for foreign air strikes in residential areas.
Hamid Karzai said he would issue a decree on Sunday, less than a week after 10 civilians were killed in a night raid in the eastern province of Kunar.
NATO-led forces in Afghanistan are not expected to make a formal response until the full decree has been issued.
Civilian casualties are a source of tension between Afghan and NATO forces.
“I will issue a decree [on Sunday] that no Afghan security forces, in any circumstances can ask for the foreigners’ planes for carrying out operations on our homes and villages,” Hamid Karzai said in a speech at the Afghan National Military Academy in Kabul.
“Our forces ask for air support from foreigners and children get killed in an air strike,” he added.
NATO troops are scheduled to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 and have gradually been handing over responsibility for security to their Afghan counterparts.
Hamid Karzai said Afghans were “happy” about the withdrawal.
“We are happy for all their help and assistance so far, but we do not need foreign forces to defend our country. We want our Afghan forces to defend their homeland,” he said.
Afghan forces now lead 90% of all security operations.
Yet the Afghan air force has limited strength, so NATO air support is considered crucial, especially for operations in harsh terrain and mountainous areas.
President Hamid Karzai has announced that Afghan security forces are to be banned from calling for foreign air strikes in residential areas
Most of the 10 civilians killed in the February 13th air strike on Kunar were women and children.
Four Taliban fighters also died in the attack, in the Shegal district of Kunar, which borders Pakistan. The Afghan army said the dead men had links to al-Qaeda.
Hamid Karzai said he had been told the air strike was requested by Afghan forces.
“If this is true, it is very regrettable and it is very shameful. How could they ask foreigners to send planes and bomb our own houses?” he said.
“I agree we are passing through a challenging phase, but we are the owners of this country… and fortunately, we will show to the world that we can protect our country,” said President Hamid Karzai.
The deaths in Kunar came just after US President Barack Obama confirmed plans for the withdrawal of about half the 66,000 US troops in Afghanistan by early 2014.
Last year a US drone attack in the same area killed Mullah Dadullah, a high-ranking Pakistani Taliban commander.
Civilian casualties rose sharply in every year from 2008 to 2011, though they fell in the first half of 2012, according to figures from the UN mission in Afghanistan.
The figures cover deaths caused both by NATO forces, allied with government troops, and by insurgents.
A UN report earlier this month accused the US of killing hundreds of children in air strikes over the past four years.
The number of child casualties had doubled in 2010-2011 due to a “lack of precautionary measures and use of indiscriminate force”, the study found.
The NATO-led ISAF force called the claims “categorically unfounded” and “false”.
NATO announces that it is restricting operations with Afghan troops following a string of deadly attacks on its personnel by rogue Afghan security forces.
Only large operations will now be conducted jointly, with joint patrols evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
ISAF said these were “prudent, but temporary, measures to reduce our profile and vulnerability”.
NATO commanders have been frustrated that the Afghans have not done more to stem the rise in attacks, analysts say.
The moves came as a suicide bomber targeted a bus carrying foreigners in the capital, killing 12 people on Tuesday morning.
The attack happened on a major road leading to the international airport and reports suggest those on board worked at the airport.
Afghan insurgent group Hezb-e-Islami has claimed it carried out the attack, which it says was in response to a recent anti-Islam video.
NATO announces that it is restricting operations with Afghan troops following a string of deadly attacks on its personnel by rogue Afghan security forces
Meanwhile NATO-led ISAF forces said they had arrested a Taliban leader and two insurgents they said were involved in an attack on the sprawling Camp Bastion in southern Helmand province.
They said the leader was suspected of “providing support” to the militants who staged the audacious assault, killing two US marines and destroying six Harrier fighter jets.
The joint command of NATO-led ISAF international forces cited “events outside of and inside Afghanistan” related to the film as part of the reason for its restrictions on joint operations.
Afghanistan has seen days of protests over the video, some violent.
Those, along with the surge in so-called “green-on-blue” attacks, had prompted the new restrictions, ISAF said.
Fifty-one NATO troops have been killed by Afghan soldiers so far this year – 15 in August alone. In 2008, just two soldiers died in such attacks – though ISAF and Afghan force numbers have also increased substantially in the period.
Four US soldiers and two UK soldiers died in rogue attacks at the weekend. A fifth of UK soldiers killed this year in Afghanistan were killed not by insurgents, but by Afghan soldiers or police.
Joint operations will now only be conducted routinely at battalion level – large operations involving several hundred troops.
“This does not mean there will be no partnering below that level; the need for that will be evaluated on a case by case basis” but it will have to be approved by a two-star general, ISAF said in a statement.
It stressed the changes were temporary.
“In some local instances, operational tempo has been reduced, or force protection has been increased. These actions balance the tension of the recent video with force protection, while maintaining the momentum of the campaign,” ISAF said.
It insisted it remained “absolutely committed to partnering with, training, advising and assisting our ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces] counterparts”.
In a news conference, US Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta told reporters he was concerned about the effect of insider attacks.
But he insisted they did not mean the Taliban was getting stronger or regaining lost territory.
He said the US would do all it could to minimize risks to its forces, but “we will not lose sight of the fundamental mission here, which is to continue to proceed to assure a peaceful transition to Afghan security and governance”.
In practical terms, US soldiers are already staying on their bases, while Afghans carry out patrols alone.
There has been enormous frustration among NATO commanders that Afghan officials have not been doing enough to prevent the rise in attacks, our correspondent says.
This shift is clearly aimed at sending a signal to the Afghan government that its measures for vetting new entrants to the Afghan army and police force must improve, they say.
But with 7,000 new recruits a month joining the Afghan army alone, it is very challenging to ensure Taliban militants do not slip through the net.
The Afghan ministry of defence said it had not been formally notified of the changes until a hurriedly convened meeting with NATO on Tuesday.
NATO’s move comes after a week of protests triggered by the anti-Islam film, produced in the US, which has caused a storm of anger around the Muslim world.
On Monday, hundreds of protesters threw rocks and torched police vehicles in an angry protest against the film in Kabul.
The AFP news agency said hundreds more staged a new protest in the northern city of Kunduz on Tuesday.
A NATO air strike in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Laghman has killed at least eight women, local officials say.
NATO has conceded that between five and eight civilians died as it targeted insurgents, and offered condolences.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai “strongly condemned” the deaths and has sent officials to the area to investigate.
Earlier on Sunday, four US soldiers with the NATO forces were killed in an attack by suspected Afghan police.
The attack in southern Zabul province brought to 51 the number of NATO troops killed in “insider attacks” this year, and came a day after two UK soldiers were killed at a checkpoint in Helmand by a man in police uniform.
Local officials in the remote area of Laghman said at least eight women had died, while provincial council member Gulzar Sangarwal said nine were dead.
Major Adam Wojack, a spokesman for the ISAF international forces, said between five and eight civilians could have been killed, and said an investigation was under way.
He said a group of some 45 insurgents had been targeted by an ISAF unit, and many had been killed.
A NATO air strike in Afghanistan's eastern province of Laghman has killed at least eight women
“Unfortunately, we have become aware of possible ISAF-caused civilian casualties as a result of this strike, numbering five-eight Afghans,” he said.
“ISAF offers its sincerest condolences to the affected community and family members, as well as to the Afghan people, concerning this tragic loss of life.”
At least seven women were also reported to have been injured. Provincial health director Latif Qayumi said some of them injured were girls aged as young as 10.
The Laghman governor’s office said a number of civilians had gone to the mountains to collect wood and nuts from a forest in the Noarlam Saib valley, a common practice in the area.
The mountainous, highly forested terrain remote from government control make the area attractive to Taliban and other insurgent groups, correspondents say.
The issue of civilian deaths by international forces has created tensions between the US President Karzai.
In August, UN figures suggested the number of civilians killed and injured in the first half of 2012 had fallen 15% on the same period of 2011.
Analysts said increased sensitivity on both sides about the impact of civilian deaths had led to more carefully targeted attacks.
In his statement, President Hamid Karzai expressed his “sorrow” over the incident, saying he “strongly condemns the airstrike by NATO forces which resulted in the deaths of eight women”.
ISAF spokesman Lt. Col. Hagen Messers said the remote base in Zabul province came under attack in the early hours of the morning, AFP reports.
The US troops were scrambled to help the Afghans repel the attack, but four of them were shot dead by Afghans in police uniform.
Officials said it was not yet clear whether the attacker or attackers were genuine police, but one provincial office told AFP that three or four known policemen had since disappeared from the base.
“At the moment, we don’t know where they have gone. We don’t know if they fled fearing arrest or if they are linked to the Taliban,” he said.
Zabul’s deputy police chief Ghulam Gilani told the Associated Press the police could have been forced into attacking the American troops.
“Whether they attacked the Americans willingly we don’t know,” he said.
Meanwhile, more details have also emerged of the scale of damage caused by an insurgent attack on NATO’s heavily fortified Camp Bastion base in Helmand province, in which two US marines were killed.
Militants breached the perimeter of the sprawling base in Helmand province, destroying six US Harrier aircraft and damaging two more, destroying three refueling stations and damaging six aircraft hangars.
NATO said 14 of the insurgents were killed and one was injured and taken into custody. Nine coalition personnel were wounded.
In a statement, NATO said the attack had been carried out by 15 insurgents dressed in US Army uniforms who “appeared to be well-equipped, trained and rehearsed”.