Eighteen people killed in a Nato air strike in eastern Afghanistan yesterday were all civilians, president Hamid Karzai said today.

Mr Karzai said: “This is unacceptable. It cannot be tolerated.”

He criticised Nato for not being able to provide an explanation for the vans piled with women and children’s bodies that villagers displayed to reporters.

Nato has so far said it has no records of civilian deaths from the pre-dawn strike on a house in Logar province.

The Nato and Afghan troops were going after a local Taliban leader when the international coalition says they came under fire and called in an air strike on the house.

Nato confirmed only militant deaths from the strike but has sent an assessment team to investigate allegations that civilians were killed either alongside or instead of insurgents.

Major Martyn Crighton, a spokesman for the Nato force in Afghanistan, said: “The reason this team has been dispatched down there is because there is such a discrepancy between what our operational reporting indicates and what Afghan officials on the ground are saying happened.”

Villagers displayed 18 bodies at the provincial capital yesterday, including five women, seven children and six men. Afghan officials said then that some or all of the dead men were militants. Since no government officials have visited the site of the attack, it is not clear if there might be additional dead.

Yesterday was a particularly deadly day for Afghanistan as a trio of suicide bombers killed 22 people in the busy marketplace of Kandahar city.

Mr Karzai said in the statement that he was cutting short his trip to China because of the attacks in Logar and Kandahar. He is expected back in Kabul tomorrow, said Syamak Herawi, a spokesman for the president.