NATO airstrikes on Afghan homes are banned, Karzai says

Afghan villagers stand outside a house which was hit by a NATO airstrike in Sajawand village, south of Kabul on June 6, 2012.

Story highlights

  • Karzai: Civilian deaths causing serious tensions between Afghanistan and allies
  • Afghan president says such strikes can't be used "even if NATO forces are attacked"
  • NATO says it will no longer use airstrikes on civilian homes if "other means" are available
  • The shift comes after an airstrike last week in Logar province that killed 18 people

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has reiterated his stance that NATO forces in Afghanistan should never make airstrikes on civilian homes, a practice that has angered many Afghans.

"As far as our responsibilities in Afghanistan are concerned, it was clearly agreed that no airstrike should be launched on the houses of Afghan people and no reason is valid for the use of it, and we totally call it disproportionate use of force," he told reporters in Kabul on Tuesday.

"Even if NATO forces are attacked, they cannot use airstrikes on civilian homes."

He said such airstrikes were "completely banned, absolutely banned."

Karzai's strong words followed a statement by NATO on Monday that it will no longer use airstrikes against insurgent targets in civilian homes if there are "other means" to deal with the targets.

Forces "will continue to conduct operations against insurgents who use civilian dwellings, but when there is concern over the presence of civilians, air delivered munitions will not be employed while other means are available," Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings said.

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The statement did not elaborate on what other means International Security Assistance Force commanders would use.

    Karzai calls casualties unacceptable

    The shift comes after an airstrike last week in Logar province that killed 18 people, including women and children. It was the latest of several such strikes that have upset relations between Afghanistan and the United States.

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    Karzai cut short a trip to China following the strike and summoned the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, to demand an end to the strikes.

    He and Allen had detailed talks, the Afghan president said, in which they agreed that this kind of strike on civilian homes "cannot be repeated."

    "Afghanistan has been ... greatly troubled by civilian casualties, as you are all aware, and this has been an issue on which we have had serious tensions with our allies in NATO and the United States," Karzai said.

    The strategic partnership agreement signed by Afghanistan was supposed to turn a new page in the relationship between his country and NATO, he said, and "bring an end to bombardment of civilian homes."

    NATO forces said the Logar airstrike occurred when soldiers returned fire during a mission targeting a Taliban leader. An ISAF spokesman said insurgents were killed and security forces seized weapons and explosives.

    The change in policy will not hinder ISAF forces from pursuing insurgents, Cummings said.

    "This restriction in no way limits our ability to take the fight to the enemy," he said. "Air dropped munitions against civilian dwellings represent a very small percentage of all of our air operations."

    Army Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of ISAF Joint Command in Afghanistan, said Monday that since January 2012, ISAF had conducted more than 1,300 close air support operations, during which "32 civilian compounds were damaged and five incidents of civilian casualties were confirmed."

    NATO and the U.S. military apologized last month to the families and loved ones of Afghans killed in coalition airstrikes in two other villages, saying they were "tragic and regrettable incidents."

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