M. Karim Faiez & Laura King / Los Angeles Times – 2008-11-11 22:35:13
Afghan Ire with West Builds over Killing of 14
M. Karim Faiez & Laura King / Los Angeles Times
KABUL, Afghanistan (November 11, 2008) — Tensions between Western forces and the government of President Hamid Karzai flared anew Monday when the Afghan leader and a provincial governor accused the US-led coalition of killing 14 Afghans who were guarding a road-construction project.
Karzai repeatedly has demanded that Western troops take urgent measures to avoid killing and injuring Afghan civilians. Recent high-profile instances of civilian casualties have inflamed public sentiment not only against foreign forces in Afghanistan, but against the US-backed government as well.
In a sign of confusion and disorganization within the Karzai administration, however, the Interior Ministry said in a separate statement that the 14 slain men had fired on coalition forces in Khost province near the border with Pakistan. The US military and the Interior Ministry said in a joint statement that the incident, which occurred Sunday night, was under investigation.
Karzai greeted the news last week that Barack Obama had won the US presidential election with a blunt demand that the new American administration put an end to civilian casualties in Afghanistan. Obama takes office Jan. 20.
“Despite the Afghan government’s constant requests to NATO and coalition forces to prevent air strikes that cause the death of innocent people and civilians, such an incident has happened again, which has no justification,” the president’s office said in a statement after the latest reported deaths.
The statement from the Interior Ministry and the US military described the 14 dead as “armed men.” It said they opened fire after their vehicles were ordered to halt, and that the coalition troops “returned fire with rifles and helicopter gunfire.”
Secondary explosions in the vehicles, reportedly from ammunition stored in them, apparently caused many of the fatalities.
Khost Gov. Arsallah Jamal said he believed the killings stemmed from a case of mistaken identity. While generally supportive of Western troops, mostly Americans, stationed in his province, Jamal has said that sometimes units from outside the area do not take sufficient precautions to establish whether locals they encounter are friend or foe.
“I know they were not Taliban militants,” he said of the slain men.
Road-construction projects in Afghanistan, which are almost always funded by foreign donors, require round-the-clock protection by private security guards or face certain attack by insurgents. Taliban militants consider such projects as tantamount to collaborating with Western interests.
The problem is particularly acute in areas such as Khost that are highly vulnerable to the infiltration of insurgents from across the border in Pakistan.
Insurgents have sunk deep roots in Pakistan’s tribal areas abutting Afghanistan, and this has led to serious problems not only with cross-border infiltration but also with attacks on supply shipments for the Western forces in Afghanistan via Pakistan. In the largest mass hijacking of Western supplies in recent memory, authorities in Pakistan said at least 13 trucks carrying military supplies through the historic Khyber Pass were commandeered Monday. The Khyber tribal agency, once calm, has been roiled by fighting this year.
Meanwhile, a roadside blast hit a vehicle in western Herat province Monday, killing four people, including a local intelligence chief, a doctor and a prosecutor, said Noor Khan Nekzad, a police spokesman for the western region. The four victims were on their way to investigate a criminal case when the blast ripped through their vehicle in the Adraskan district, Nekzad said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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