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Afghanistan Demands End to Airstrikes on Houses

Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during a press conference at the Presidential palace in Kabul, May 31, 2011

Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during a press conference at the Presidential palace in Kabul, May 31, 2011

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai is warning NATO forces in his country that he will no longer allow them to target houses with airstrikes. The warning follows an airstrike Afghan officials say killed 14 people Saturday, including women and children, in Helmand Province.

Karzai said his demand for NATO to stop airstrikes that kill Afghan civilians is his "last warning." But he would not clarify what actions the Kabul government would take if the bombings continue.

He said he would be bringing up the issue when he next meets with NATO commanders.

In the past, the Afghan president has made sweeping statements condemning NATO forces and banning certain practices, such as night raids on Afghan homes, only to later allow the practices to continue.

But speaking with reporters in Kabul, Karzai said the Afghan people can no longer tolerate airstrikes that target Afghan homes.

“Afghanistan is an ally, not an occupied country. And our treatment with NATO is from the point of view of an ally. If it turns to the other, to the behavior of an occupation then of course the Afghan people know how to deal with that,” he said.

After 10 years of war, civilian deaths caused by international forces have become a bitter issue among locals for whom tribal honor codes demand revenge or compensation.

NATO officials say they never conduct airstrikes without some coordination with Afghan authorities. They also say militants routinely hide in civilian areas and use innocent bystanders as human shields when fighting.

On Saturday, U.S. Marines called in airstrikes during a firefight in Helmand Province, in southern Afghanistan. NATO officials later apologized for killing what they said were nine civilians in the attack. They said the operation was aimed at insurgents who earlier had attacked a U.S. patrol, killing one Marine.

A spokeswoman for the International Security Forces, Lieutenant Colonel Regina Winchester said NATO forces have clear rules of engagement intended to minimize such events.

“We have very specific guidelines and rules of engagement on how we interact and how we conduct operations, especially in populated areas," said Winchester. "One of our primary lines of operations here is to protect the populace and that’s not just from the insurgents, but also from any possible civilian casualties as the outcome of our own operations.”

U.S. and NATO troops are in Afghanistan under a U.N. mandate that is due to expire in October. U.S. officials are still in negotiations on what the status of foreign troops will be after that date.

Karzai has said that he will put strict controls on the conduct of international forces in any agreement.

NATO officials in Afghanistan say they regularly review their tactics in an effort to limit civilian casualties. A spokesman for NATO forces says there will be a new inquiry following Karzai’s statements.

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