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Coalition puts limits on use of airstrikes; Afghan homes are now off-limits

The U.S.-led military coalition in Afghanistan is limiting airstrikes against houses to self-defense for troops, following a strike last week that killed women and children alongside insurgents, a spokesman for the alliance said Monday.

Such airstrikes are now being designated a weapon of last resort to rescue soldiers, cutting back their use.

Though airstrikes on homes are a small part of the international operations in Afghanistan, they have brewed resentment among Afghans, even when there are no casualties, because of the sense that homes and privacy have been violated.

Civilian deaths from such operations have threatened to derail the Afghan-U.S. alliance.

President Hamid Karzai demanded in a meeting Saturday night with NATO and U.S. forces commander Gen. John Allen that the international troops ban all airstrikes on homes.

A spokesman for the alliance, Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings, said Monday that airstrikes were being severely curtailed.

Meanwhile, an ambulance carrying a pregnant woman in labor to the hospital hit a roadside bomb in northern Afghanistan on Monday, killing her and four family members, including two children, Afghan officials said. Two other people were hurt.

The explosion took place in the province of Sar-e-Pul, about 220 miles northwest of the Afghan capital, Kabul. The province last week was the scene of a jailbreak in which more than a dozen inmates, including several members of the Taliban, blasted their way out of the prison. The police chief and prison director were fired in the wake of the breakout.

The Interior Ministry blamed insurgents, who have been seeking to establish themselves across northern Afghanistan.

"Targeting civilians is a clear sign of the weakness of insurgents," the ministry said in a statement. "Such attacks can never weaken the spirit of cooperation between our people and security forces."

Civilian fatalities dropped in the first four months of the year, but have been rising again as warmer temperatures have ushered in more fighting between coalition forces and the Taliban and allied groups. Improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, are blamed for causing the largest share of deaths among civilians and soldiers alike.