President Karzai has been under pressure over mounting civilian casualties in NATO raids [EPA]

Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, has warned that the NATO forces fighting in his country risk becoming an "occupying force" if they do not stop air strikes on Afghan civilian homes as they hunt armed fighters.

On Tuesday, Karzai told reporters in Kabul that "from this moment, air strikes on the houses of people are not allowed.

"The people of Afghanistan so far have endured casualties and have given sacrifices. So these operations should not be used against Afghan people and their houses.

"That's why bombing Afghan houses is banned."

The president's outspoken remarks came days after he issued a "last warning" to foreign forces over civilian casualties following Saturday's killingof 14 civilians, including women and children in an air strike.

Nato apology

NATO's US-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) later apologised over the incident in the restive southern province of Helmand.

"If after the Afghan government said the aerial bombing of Afghan houses is banned and if it continues, then their presence will change from a war against terrorism to an occupying force," Karzai added.

"And in that case, Afghan history is witness to how the Afghans deal with occupying forces," he said, making apparent reference to the historic defeats of foreign invasions, including that of the Soviet Union, which invaded Afghanistan in 1979 and withdrew 10 years later.

It was the president's strongest statement against the air strikes, which NATO says are a necessary weapon in the war against the Taliban insurgency.

NATO says it never conducts such strikes without Afghan government co-ordination and approval. NATO officials could not immediately be reached for comment on Karzai's statement.

Source: Agencies