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Afghanistan

Karzai: Afghan forces must not request NATO airstrikes

Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai has said he will issue a decree banning Afghan forces from calling for assistance from NATO airstrikes. Ten civilians were killed by a NATO strike in Afghanistan on Wednesday.

Addressing a conference at Kabul's National Military Academy, Karzai said on Saturday that Afghan forces would be forbidden from requesting strikes in residential areas "under any conditions." The president said he planned to issue a decree outlining the ban on Sunday.

"I issue a decree, from tomorrow none of the Afghan forces are allowed to ask for foreign air support under any conditions," he told an audience of young officers.

"Our forces ask for air support from foreigners and children get killed in an airstrike," he said.

His comments come three days after 10 civilians, including women and children, were killed in a joint NATO-Afghan airstrike in the northeast Kunar province. Ground forces were reportedly targeting a Taliban hideout in the region. Afghan officials said three Taliban commanders, including an al Qaeda-linked militant were killed in the raid.

'We can defend our country'

NATO airstrikes and civilian deaths have become one of the most divisive issues of the 11-year-old war in Afghanistan.  The issue has threatened to destabilize the coalition of international troops and Afghan security forces.

"We are happy the foreign troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan," Karzai said, referring to the scheduled withdrawal of US-led NATO combat troops by the end of next year.

"I have been arguing with the foreign troops, don't bombard our houses, don't go to our villages, don't disrespect our people. And we hear our forces partnered with foreign forces are violating human rights."

Karzai stressed that Afghan forces were capable of defending Afghanistan without foreign aid.

"I agree we are passing through a challenging phase, but we are the owners of this country," the president said.

"America is not the owner of this country, Pakistan is not the owner of this country, Germany is not the owner of this country, France is not the owner of this country," he continued. "… And fortunately, we will show to the world that we can protect our country, and we can defend our country."

ccp/slk (AFP, Reuters, AP, dpa)