Angered by civilian casualties, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said today that he will no longer allow Nato air strikes on houses.
It is his strongest statement yet against strikes that the military alliance says are key to its war on Taliban insurgents.
The president’s remarks follow a recent strike which mistakenly killed a group of children and women in southern Helmand province. He said it would be the last.
“From this moment, air strikes on the houses of people are not allowed,” he told reporters in Kabul.
Nato said it never carries out such strikes without Afghan government co-ordination and approval. A spokesman for Nato forces in Afghanistan said they will review their procedures for air strikes given Mr Karzai’s statement but did not say that it would force any immediate change in tactics.
“In the days and weeks ahead we will co-ordinate very closely with President Karzai to ensure that his intent is met,” spokeswoman Major Sunset Belinsky said.
If Mr Karzai holds to what sounds like an order to international troops to abandon strikes, it could bring the Afghan government in direct conflict with its international allies.
“Coalition forces constantly strive to reduce the chance of civilian casualties and damage to structures, but when the insurgents use civilians as a shield and put our forces in a position where their only option is to use air strikes, then they will take that option,” Maj Belinsky said.
It is unclear if Mr Karzai has the power to order an end to such strikes.
Nato and American forces are in Afghanistan under a United Nations mandate which expires in October. The United States is negotiating an agreement with the Afghan government on the future presence of its forces in the country, but this has already become contentious, with Mr Karzai declaring that he will put strict controls on how US troops conduct themselves in his country.
“The Afghan people can no longer tolerate these attacks,” he told reporters at the presidential palace.
He issued a veiled threat: “The Afghan people will be forced to take action.” He did not, however, say what this action would be.
“We want it to be clear that they are working in a sovereign nation,” Mr Karzai added.