Karzai warns NATO not to become “occupying force”

President Hamid Karzai warned NATO-led forces in Afghanistan on Tuesday that they were at risk of being seen as an occupying force rather than an ally after a spate of civilian casualties, and said he would take unspecified “action” if they continue.

Raids on Afghan homes in pursuit of insurgents were “not allowed”, and the patience of the Afghan people with the tactic had run out, Karzai said, underlining the challenge of winning popular support for an increasingly violent war.

“We see NATO from the point of view of an ally… If they don’t stop air strikes on Afghan homes, their presence in Afghanistan will be considered as an occupying force and against the will of the Afghan people,” he told reporters.

The fiery speech also underlined Karzai’s desire to forge an image as champion of Afghanistan and distance himself from the Western troops who have spent nearly a decade fighting the Taliban, as resentment against the foreign presence grows.

Karzai’s rise to power in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban was due in no small part to Western support, something which his critics have not forgotten.

Karzai sharply condemned NATO air strikes which inadvertently killed at least nine people — most of them small children — in southern Helmand on Sunday.The strikes were ordered after a patrol had come under fire.

Civilian casualties caused by foreign troops, usually in air strikes or night raids on Afghan, have long been a major source of friction between Karzai and his Western backers.

Karzai warned that the tactics were a violation of Afghanistan’s sovereignty.

“They must stop bombarding Afghan homes… If they do not, the Afghan government will be forced to take unilateral action,” Karzai said, declining to go into detail about what his government would do if the tactics were not stopped.