Afghan forces banned from calling in Nato air strikes

KABUL (AFP) - Afghan ground forces will be barred from calling in Nato air strikes after an attack killed a number of children this week, President Hamid Karzai said on Saturday.

"I issue a decree, from tomorrow none of the Afghan forces are allowed to ask for foreign air support under any conditions," he said in an address to young officers at a military academy in Kabul.

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

This was apparently a reference to an attack during an overnight raid by combined Afghan and Nato ground forces on a Taleban hideout in a remote eastern region on Wednesday.

Initial reports said 10 civilians, including five children and four women, were killed when the air strike was called in.

Three Taleban commanders, including a notorious Al-Qaeda-linked militant leader called Shahpoor, were also killed in the raid, Afghan officials said.

Civilian casualties caused by Nato forces fighting Taleban Islamist insurgents are a highly sensitive issue and are regularly condemned by Mr Karzai.

"We are happy the foreign troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan," he 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."

Mr Karzai said Afghan forces would be able to defend the country after the foreign troops withdraw.

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

"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.

"And fortunately, we will show to the world that we can protect our country, and we can defend our country," he said.

More than 3,200 Nato troops, mostly Americans, have died in support of Mr Karzai's government in the 11-year war since the Taleban were ousted by a US invasion in 2001, but relations between the president and the United States are often prickly.

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