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Afghan leader to NATO: Stop bombing homes

KABUL, Afghanistan -- President Hamid Karzai ordered NATO Tuesday to stop bombing homes, citing the risk of civilian casualties and putting him on a collision course with his Western protectors who insist the attacks are an essential weapon and will continue.

It was Karzai's strongest-ever statement against alliance airstrikes and further complicated a difficult relationship with the Obama administration as it prepares a troop drawdown in the increasingly unpopular war. Karzai's remarks were prompted by a weekend attack that mistakenly killed children and women in Helmand province. Karzai declared it would be the last.

"From this moment, airstrikes on the houses of people are not allowed," Karzai told reporters in Kabul.

Ordering airstrikes is a command decision in Afghanistan, where NATO spokeswoman Maj. Sunset Belinsky insisted they would continue. "Coalition forces constantly strive to reduce the chance of civilian casualties and damage to structures," she said. "But when the insurgents use civilians as a shield and put our forces in a position where their only option is to use airstrikes, then they will take that option."

In Brussels, NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu insisted NATO airstrikes are still essential.

Karzai's spokesman quoted the president as saying "that any such strikes in the future will make the Afghan government react unilaterally." He did not explain what "unilateral action" might be, but said Karzai plans to discuss it with NATO officials next week.

NATO said nine civilians were killed in Saturday's airstrike. Afghan officials say 14 were killed. NATO apologized, saying the strike was in response to an insurgent attack that killed a U.S. Marine.

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