NATO Says Attacks on Afghan Houses 'Necessary,' Will Continue
A NATO spokesperson says attacks on houses in Afghanistan are necessary and will continue, despite Afghan President Hamid Karzai's assertion that he will no longer permit them to take place.
Karzai took a hardline stance Tuesday against NATO airstrikes on houses, following an attack over the weekend that claimed the lives of women and children.
NATO officials said the Saturday airstrike in Helmand province left at least nine people dead. Afghan officials, however, said the strike killed 14 people, including at least 10 children and two women.
Karzai said such strikes are not acceptable, and Afghanistan is willing to take "unilateral" action against NATO if they continue.
"From this moment, airstrikes on the houses of people are not allowed," Karzai told reporters in Kabul.
He said he has repeatedly stressed to Afghanistan's international allies that deadly airstrikes that claim civilian lives are not acceptable and said if they don't stop, "the Afghan government will be forced to take unilateral action."
It wasn't clear what actions, if any, Karzai, could take against NATO.
"If this is repeated, Afghanistan has a lot of ways of stopping it, but we don't want to go there. We want NATO to stop the raids on its own, without a declaration ... by the Afghan government, because we want to continue to co-operate," Karzai said.
Hours later, NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu said such airstrikes "continue to be necessary," though she said NATO takes the Afghan president's concerns seriously and the alliance always takes measures to limit civilian casualties.
NATO initially said it would review its procedures but emphasized that all such air strikes are done with the co-ordination and approval of the Afghan government.
The organization worded its response carefully, saying "in the days and weeks ahead we will co-ordinate very closely with President Karzai to ensure that his intent is met," said Maj. Sunset Belinsky, NATO spokesperson.
In the past, Karzai has made strong statements against some NATO tactics, such as night raids, but later backed away from his demands.
Belinsky went on to say that insurgents often use civilians as human shields, and position their bases in neighbourhoods where NATO strikes are all but certain to claim civilian lives.
However, she said NATO will continue to use air strikes against its enemies when that is the only option available.
Karzai's ultimatum could put his government on a collision course with NATO and specifically, U.S. forces.
On Tuesday he said NATO forces could be seen as an "occupying force" if they don't respect Afghanistan as a sovereign nation.
The Taliban often refers to the coalition by the same term.
NATO has apologized for the deadly attack on Saturday, saying troops believed the compound they were firing on housed only insurgents.
The attack took place in Nawzad district.
The U.S. Marine commander of the region, Maj. Gen. John Toolan, said NATO ordered the airstrike after a Marine was killed in a nearby insurgent attack.
Five insurgents occupied a compound and continued to attack coalition troops, who called in an airstrike "to neutralize the threat," Toolan said.
The civilian casualties were later discovered in the house.
In 2010, at least 2,777 civilians were killed in Afghanistan, according to a United Nations report. That number marks an increase of 15 per cent over the previous year.
With files from The Associated Press