12 Apr

NATO Troops Kill Four Afghan Civilians



 By MATTHEW ROSENBERG.  APRIL 12, 2010, 6:51 A.M. ET

The McGlynn: Again and Again and Again

KABUL—U.S. soldiers opened fire on a bus in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar, killing at least four civilians are and wounding 18 others, Afghan and coalition officials said.

Hours later, Taliban suicide bombers tried to attack the main office of Afghanistan’s intelligence service in Kandahar city, wounding at least three people.

The bus shooting and the Taliban attack offered a stark illustration of how ordinary Afghans are often caught up and killed in the increasingly bloody battle for Afghanistan. The deaths— whether caused by coalition forces or Taliban fighters —have more often than not sapped Afghan support for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s campaign against the insurgency.

Monday’s violence came at a particularly delicate time: the U.S. and its allies are planning a major offensive against the Taliban in Kandahar in the coming months, and commanders have repeatedly stressed that success depends upon earning the support of the province’s people and its government.

Instead, the bus shooting prompted widespread anger in Kandahar with protesters setting tires aflame and blocking the main highway leading west out of the city. Provincial and national officials condemned the incident.

Afghan police stand guard as protesters burn tires during a demonstration on the outskirts of Kandahar city on Monday.

A spokesman for the provincial governor, Zelmai Ayubi, said the bus was traveling west from Kandahar city, the capital of the province, when it came up behind a NATO convoy around dawn Monday.

When the bus—which was believed to be carrying between 50 and 60 people—failed to heed warnings to stop, the troops opened fire, he said.

A NATO officer said it was too dark at the time of the shooting for the soldiers in the convoy to make out what was coming up behind them. “All they could tell was that it was a large vehicle,” the officer said, citing preliminary reports from the scene.

The officer said the convoy tried repeatedly to warn off the bus with flashlights and flares. Ordinarily, the convoy would have pulled over and allowed the bus to pass but there were steep embankments running on either side of the road, the officer said.

As this was happening, a second NATO convoy heading in the other direction passed the first convoy and the bus. The bus then sped up toward the first convoy. At that point, soldiers in the first convoy raked the bus with gunfire.

They quickly discovered they had opened fire on a bus filled with civilians. At least five wounded people were treated by NATO medics at the scene.

Some of the wounded were taken to hospitals in Kandahar, and Mr. Ayubi said others were airlifted to the better-equipped hospital at Kandahar Air Field, the massive coalition base on the edge of the city. The NATO official couldn’t confirm that.

NATO said it had dispatched a team to investigate the shooting. Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry also said it had ordered the Kandahar police to investigate.

“We condemn this shooting with strongest words possible,” Mr. Ayubi said. “We promise our people that we will seriously investigate this incident.”

Aware of the damage done by civilian deaths, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has made reducing such deaths a top priority. Last year, he issued strict orders on when foreign troops could open fire in an effort to reduce the number of civilians killed.

The result was a 40% drop last year in the number of Afghan civilians slain by coalition forces. But such deaths still remain a regular occurrence, stoking anger among Afghans who have grown weary and frustrated after nine years of war.

The Taliban attack took place after noon, when three suicide bombers tried to enter of Kandahar office of the National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, said a senior police officer in the city.

Details were sketchy, but it appears to bombers could not get in. They instead holed up in an adjacent school and began shooting at the NDS office, the policeman said.

Afghan security forces shot two of the attackers dead and the third set off his explosives, the policeman said. The wounded included two NDS officers and a teacher.

—Habib Zahori in Kabul and Ghousuddin Frotan in Kandahar contributed to this article

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