Afghan News.net & CBC & Rahim Faiez / Associated Press & Newsday – 2007-03-04 23:33:08
Confusion over US Convoy Ambush in Afghanistan
JALALABAD (March 4, 2007) — US military officials in Afghanistan now say eight Afghan civilians were killed after a suicide attack and ambush by gunmen on a US convoy.
Earlier, US officials said 16 civilians died in the incident near the eastern city of Jalalabad, but the figure was later revised without explanation.
The military says US troops opened fire after a suicide bomber rammed their convoy with his vehicle and other militants began shooting. US officials say it is not clear if the civilians were killed by the American troops or the attackers.
Afghan police said it appeared at least some civilians were killed by US gunfire. The Associated Press news service is quoting wounded Afghans as saying US forces fired indiscriminately along a six-mile stretch of the busy highway where the incident took place.
Meanwhile, British defense officials have identified two NATO soldiers killed Saturday as members of a British artillery unit.
They said the two men were killed in a rocket attack during operations in the Sangin area of Helmand province in southern Afghanistan.
Helmand has seen the most fighting this year, with regular clashes with Taliban forces.
Civilians Killed after Attack on
US Convoy in Afghanistan
(March 4, 2007) — A busy highway in eastern Afghanistan was the scene of carnage on Sunday as US troops retaliated after being hit by a suicide bombing and gunfire. At least eight Afghan civilians were reported killed and 34 others wounded.
The initial attack, which US military officials described as “complex,” began when a suicide attacker detonated a minivan filled with explosives as a US convoy approached.
At the same time, gunmen started shooting, and the Americans returned fire. One member of the US force was wounded.
Afterward, Americans reportedly treated every car and person travelling along the busy highway in the area as a potential attacker, Mohammad Khan Katawazi, the district chief of Shinwar, told the Associated Press.
More than a half dozen Afghans recuperating from bullet wounds told AP that the US forces had fired indiscriminately on passing vehicles.
“They were firing everywhere, and they even opened fire on 14 to 15 vehicles passing on the highway,” said Tur Gul, 38, who was standing on the roadside by a gas station and was shot twice in his right hand.
“They opened fire on everybody, the ones inside the vehicles and the ones on foot.”
A freelance photographer and a television cameraman working for AP said a US soldier deleted their photos and video showing a four-wheel-drive vehicle in which three people were shot to death. The shooting took place about 100 metres from the suicide bombing.
The gunfire from Americans prompted angry demonstrations in the region.
“We regret the death of innocent Afghan citizens as a result of the Taliban extremists’ cowardly act,” US spokesman Lt.-Col. David Accetta said in a statement.
Taliban Leaflets Issue Warning
The attack came at a time when the Taliban have been distributing leaflets in the south, warning of a new offensive, Reuters reported.
One leaflet distributed in the town of Spin Boldak said people should keep their distance from gatherings of foreign or Afghan forces and their convoys. As news spread about American shooting of civilians, crowds gathered near the eastern city of Jalalabad, with some throwing stones at police.
Afghan, US Reports
On Firefight Differ
Rahim Faiez / Associated Press
BARIKAW, Afghanistan (March 4, 2007) — An explosives-rigged minivan crashed into a convoy of Marines that US officials said also came under fire from militant gunmen Sunday. As many as 10 people were killed and 34 wounded as the convoy made a frenzied escape, and injured Afghans said the Americans fired on civilian cars and pedestrians as they sped away.
US officials said militant gunfire may have killed or injured civilians, but Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry and wounded Afghans said most of the bullets were American. Hundreds of angry Afghans protested near the blast site, denouncing the US presence here.
As the Americans fled, they treated every car and person along the busy, tree-lined highway as a potential attacker, said Mohammad Khan Katawazi, the district chief of Shinwar in eastern Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province.
“I saw them turning and firing in this direction, then turning and firing in that direction,” Ahmed Najib, a 23-year-old hit by a bullet in his right shoulder, said of the US forces. “I even saw a farmer shot by the Americans.”
Lt. Col. David Accetta, the top US military spokesman in Afghanistan, said gunmen may have fired on US forces at multiple points during the escape. He said it was not yet clear how the casualties happened, though he left open the possibility that US forces had shot civilians.
“It’s not entirely clear right now if the people killed or wounded by gunfire were killed or wounded by coalition forces gunfire or enemy attackers gunfire,” he said.
The accusation that US forces killed or wounded so many Afghans was likely to cause an uproar in a country that has seen an untold number of civilians killed by international forces since the US-led invasion in 2001. A high-level delegation was appointed to investigate.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has pleaded repeatedly for Western troops to take care not to harm civilians, and in December wept during a speech lamenting civilian deaths at the hands of foreign forces.
The US-based Human Rights Watch estimates that more than 100 Afghan civilians died as a result of NATO and coalition assaults in 2006. An AP tally, based on reports from Afghan, NATO and coalition officials, puts the overall civilian death toll in 2006 at 834, most from militant attacks.
Nine witnesses — including five Afghans recuperating from bullet wounds in the hospital — told The Associated Press that US forces fired indiscriminately along at least a six-mile stretch of one of eastern Afghanistan’s busiest highways — a route often filled not only with cars and trucks but Afghans on foot and bicycles.
“They were firing everywhere, and they even opened fire on 14 to 15 vehicles passing on the highway,” said Tur Gul, 38, who was standing on the roadside by a gas station and was shot twice in his right hand. “They opened fire on everybody, the ones inside the vehicles and the ones on foot.”
The tolls varied. The Interior Ministry said 10 people were killed, while the provincial health chief said eight died.
The US military said eight civilians were killed and 34 wounded after earlier saying 16 were killed and 24 wounded. It did not explain the revised, lower death toll, saying only that the new figures were “the most accurate numbers to date.” A US Marine was also injured in the suicide blast.
Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary said the chief of the Interior Ministry’s criminal division would lead a delegation including a US-led coalition official to Nangarhar province Monday to investigate.
“The coalition says they have proof that gunmen opened fire,” said Bashary. “But I think more of the gunfire was from the (US) side.”
Malik Shakan, 45, a village elder, said “I can assure you 100 percent” that no militants had fired on the Americans. But Accetta said it was possible villagers wouldn’t have seen gunmen firing from covered positions and that their attention would have been fixed on the US vehicles.
The gunfire from Americans prompted angry demonstrations in the region — just 30 miles west of the Pakistan border. Hundreds of Afghans blocked the road and threw rocks at police, with some demonstrators shouting “Death to America! Death to Karzai!”
At the Jalalabad hospital, several victims said the American convoy approached them on the highway and opened fire. As the convoy neared, many cars pulled over to the side of the road, but were still hit by gunfire.
“When we parked our vehicle, when they passed us, they opened fire on our vehicle,” said 15-year-old Mohammad Ishaq, who was hit by two bullets, in his left arm and his right ear. “It was a convoy of three American Humvees. All three humvees were firing around.”
Mohammad Karim, an 18-year-old employee at a hotel near the blast site, said he ran outside after the explosion and saw American forces fire a stream of bullets at a four-wheel drive vehicle.
“I ran to the vehicle to see how many people were inside. We found three dead bodies, and one wounded, but he was also in a very critical condition,” he said. “All four people were from one family. The one who was wounded was about 20 years old.”
An AP reporter at the scene said the vehicle was riddled by dozens of bullets.
US forces later deleted photos of the vehicle taken by a freelance photographer working for The Associated Press and video taken by a freelancer working for AP Television News. Neither the photographer nor the cameraman witnessed the suicide attack or the subsequent gunfire.
The freelance photographer, Rahmat Gul, said an American soldier took his camera and deleted the photos, saying he didn’t have permission to take them. Gul said a soldier later said it was OK to take photos, but that the first soldier came back and angrily told him to delete the photos again. Gul said the soldier then raised his fist as if he was going to strike Gul.
The US forces involved in the attack and ensuing gunfire were part of the US-led coalition, not NATO’s International Security Assistance Force. An official who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to release the information said the troops were Marine Special Operations Forces.
A man claiming to speak for a breakaway faction of the militant group Hezb-e-Islami, a group he said is linked with the Taliban, claimed responsibility for the bombing and identified the attacker as an Afghan named Haji Ihsanullah in a telephone call to AP. The purported spokesman identified himself as Qari Sajjad.
Accetta, the coalition spokesman, said the attack demonstrated the militants’ “blatant disregard for human life” by attacking forces in a populated area. NATO officials repeatedly say that suicide bombs aimed at international and Afghan forces kill far more civilians than soldiers.
Khan Mohammad, who was being treated at the Jalalabad hospital for a shrapnel wound from the blast, said he was driving directly behind the suicide bomber’s minivan. The large blast shattered Mohammad’s windshield, and something hit his forehead, he said.
“The minivan that was in front of us was in small pieces on the road,” he said.
Copyright 2007 Newsday Inc.
British soldiers killed in Helmand
CBC, Reuters & AP
In southern Afghanistan, two British soldiers were killed in a rocket attack, Britain’s Ministry of Defence said Sunday.
At Kandahar airfield British flags have been lowered to half-mast, the CBC’s Tom Parry reported from Afghanistan.
The soldiers were part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. Both were killed in a rocket attack on Saturday in the southern Helmand province.
Residents in the area told Reuters there had been heavy fighting in Helmand on Saturday.
“The deaths of the two soldiers comes at a time when both NATO and Taliban insurgents are talking about the possibility of a spring offensive. There has been a lull in the fighting over the winter,” Parry said.
With files from the Associated Press