KABUL, Afghanistan — The new American commander of Western forces in Afghanistan has issued a directive asserting troops' right to defend themselves but also calling on them to continue efforts to safeguard Afghan civilian lives, military officials said Wednesday.
Gen. David Petraeus' tactical directive, his first since assuming command last month, appears aimed at countering some grumbling within the ranks that Western forces' hands are tied in confrontations with insurgents because of battlefield rules handed down last year by his predecessor, Gen. Stanley McChrystal.
It is a delicate balance to strike, because civilian casualties are one of the most inflammatory issues between NATO forces and the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
The proportion of civilian deaths attributed to Western troops has declined significantly since last summer's directive by McChrystal. In a departure from previous practice, he ordered that airstrikes and artillery not be used if civilians might be present, unless troops are in imminent danger of being overrun.
Petraeus' directive, which supersedes the old one, is classified, but parts of it were made public on Wednesday.
U.S. military officials speaking on condition of anonymity because the directive is classified said the new version includes some refinements to guidelines on use of aerial bombardment and artillery fire, and spells out more instances in which such methods should not be used.
The new guidelines, he said, are "intended to ensure that everyone is on the same page," said Lt. Col. John Dorrian, the operations spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force.
In the unclassified portion of the directive, Petraeus writes that "every Afghan civilian death diminishes our cause." But he added that the directive "does not prevent commanders from protecting the lives of their men and women" and included an admonition to subordinates not to put further restrictions on use of force without his explicit approval.