KABUL, Afghanistan — Stung by furious Afghan criticism of an airstrike that killed 18 civilians last week, most of them women and children, the NATO force has agreed to refrain from aerial bombardment of residential buildings, a military spokesman said Sunday.
The accord, reached Saturday night at a meeting between President Hamid Karzai and Gen. John Allen, the American who commands Western forces in Afghanistan, reflects a changing dynamic between the Afghan government and the NATO force. As Western troops prepare to depart, Afghanistan has been more strongly asserting its sovereignty, in particular demanding curtailment of nighttime raids by special operations forces.
Tensions had been building since Wednesday's deadly airstrike in Logar province, which came as coalition troops were targeting a Taliban commander in an overnight raid. In response, Karzai sharply criticized the Western military effort during a visit to Kabul by U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. On Friday, Allen took the unusual step of visiting Logar and apologizing to villagers, even though the military's investigation is still going on.
Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings, a spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force, said Western troops would continue to pursue insurgents who hide in residential compounds, "but when there is concern over the presence of civilians, air delivered bombs will not be employed while other means are available."
The presidential palace described the ban in more absolute terms, saying that Allen had "promised that from now on the NATO force will never bombard the people's homes and villages."
The Taliban, meanwhile, has sought to capitalize on public anger over the bombardment, ordering Logar schools closed to mourn victims of the attack.
Also Sunday, the NATO reported the death of a service member in southern Afghanistan from an insurgent attack.