Afghanistan has a lot of ways of stopping it: Karzai
KABUL - 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.
"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 told reporters 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 neighborhoods 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.
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.
ISAF said the death toll was nine and has apologized while saying the strike was carried out after insurgents who had earlier killed a patrolling marine hid in a compound and carried on firing.
Western military figures say that it is a regular Taliban tactic to hide among civilians when they are being pursued by international forces.
In the wake of Karzai's comments, ISAF spokeswoman Lieutenant Commander Kaye Sweetser said that the force was "always trying to avoid" civilian casualties and that each one was fully investigated.
"We do understand that a civilian casualty will diminish our cause here," she added.
The US commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, this month again urged officers to "reduce civilian casualties to an absolute minimum".
The civilian casualties were later discovered in the house. (AP)