The commander of NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan issued updated rules of battle Wednesday, repeating his predecessor’s curbs on use of air power and heavy weapons when civilians are at risk but stressing the right of troops to defend themselves.

Also Wednesday, New Zealand announced it suffered its first combat death of the war during an ambush a day earlier in one of Afghanistan’s most peaceful provinces. The Taliban claimed responsibility, raising concern that the insurgency is spreading beyond its strongholds even as U.S. and NATO forces are ramping up the war against the insurgents in the south.

The new guidance comes after widespread complaints from troops that rules laid down by former commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal were putting them in danger and handing the advantage to the Taliban.

There had been speculation that Gen. David Petraeus – who took over from McChrystal a month ago – might ease the rules. But Petraeus, like McChrystal, emphasized that protecting the Afghan people was the top priority in the war.

“We must continue – indeed, redouble – our efforts to reduce the loss of innocent civilian life to an absolute minimum,” Petraeus wrote in the document released by the NATO command Wednesday. Some sections were not released for security reasons, the command said.

McChrystal stressed the need to reduce civilian casualties as a tool for winning the war – noting that every civilian killed the crossfire created a legion of family members with a grudge against NATO forces and motivation to join the Taliban.

Under this guidance, NATO forces drastically restricted the use of airstrikes, which had previously been called in without knowledge of who was inside a building. Troops were also instructed to only fire on people who were actively firing on them.

Though McChrystal’s directive did frustrate many Soldiers in the field, it also led to a drop in civilian deaths attributed to NATO forces.

Source: Associated Press

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