Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai bans NATO airstrikes

KABUL, Afghanistan

"From this moment, airstrikes on the houses of people are not allowed," said Karzai. "The Afghan people can no longer tolerate these attacks on their homes. If you do not come to an understanding with us based on a negotiated solution to this- that is the prevention of bombardment of Afghan homes- the Afghan government will be forced to take a unilateral action."

This is Karzai's strongest statement yet against attacks that the military alliance says are vital to its war on Taliban insurgents.

/*NATO*/ apologized for the airstrike on civilians and said it never conducts such attacks on homes without Afghan government approval. Ordering airstrikes is a command decision in Afghanistan. A NATO spokeswoman there, Maj. Sunset Belinsky, insisted they would continue.

"Coalition forces constantly strive to reduce the chance of civilian casualties and damage to structures," Belinsky said. "But when the insurgents use civilians as a shield and put our forces in a position where their only option is to use airstrikes, then they will take that option."

Belinsky also offered a conciliatory tone. "In the days and weeks ahead we will coordinate very closely with President Karzai to ensure that his intent is met," she said. Karzai has previously made strong statements against certain military tactics, such as night raids, only to back away from them later.

If Karzai holds to what sounds like an order to international troops to abandon most airstrikes, it could bring the Afghan government into direct conflict with its international allies.

Karzai's spokesman said the president plans to stand firm on this issue, regardless of the fallout with NATO.

NATO airstrikes target Taliban and other militants in towns and villages. The international force has scaled back such strikes because of worries that civilians could be inside targeted buildings, but has maintained that they are still an essential tool because they are often more precise and can be less costly in casualties on both sides than ground operations.

It is unclear if Karzai has the power to order an end to such strikes. NATO and American forces are in Afghanistan under a United Nations mandate. Negotiations between the United States and the Afghan government over the presence of U.S. forces have become contentious. Karzai has declared that he will put strict controls on how U.S. troops operate.

The Associated Press contributed to this story

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