US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the US military will review its use of air power in Afghanistan to try to reduce civilian casualties following the recent outcry by the Kabul government over deadly US strikes in western Afghanistan.
AFP¨- The US military will review its operations and use of air power in Afghanistan to try to reduce the risk posed to innocent civilians, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Thursday.
Gates said newly appointed military commanders in Afghanistan face the challenge of balancing the need to protect NATO-led forces through air strikes with the need to avoid civilian casualties.
Air power would still be required in cases when coalition troops needed help and were under attack but a revised approach might be possible when it comes to offensive operations, Gates told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
"And it really boils down to are we on defense or are we on offense? And on defense, I don't think we should make any changes.
"We need to protect our troops," Gates said, when asked whether an influx of more than 21,000 US troops might reduce the demand for air strikes.
"But if we're on offense, that's where I think we need to take a closer look at the operational concept and our planning and how we're going forward with this in a way to minimize the chance of innocent civilian casualties."
About 40 percent of air missions are carried out to protect allies and not US troops in Afghanistan, said Gates, without elaborating.
The killing of civilians in anti-insurgent operations has become a growing source of friction between the Kabul government and the tens of thousands of foreign forces deployed here to help tackle the Taliban-led fighters.
The Afghan government says 140 civilians, including 95 under the age of 18, were killed in recent US air strikes in the west.
The US military says it is investigating the incident but only said that "a number" of civilians were killed.
Tensions over the issue peaked in August last year when civilians were killed in US air strikes in the western province of Herat.
Gates and military officers say the Taliban intentionally operates among civilians as part of its strategy to undermine public trust in the coalition forces.
US officials worry that civilian casualties are undermining military and civilian efforts to bolster the Kabul government and handing a propaganda victory to insurgents.
Date created : 2009-05-14