Anti-American Protests Sparked after NATO Forces Open Fire on Cilivian Afghan Bus

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Associated Press

Anti-American Protests Sparked after NATO Forces Open Fire on Cilivian Afghan Bus

Afghan official: 4 civilians killed by NATO troops

by
Noor Khan and Kathy Gannon

Paramedics carry an Afghan man wounded when international troops opened fire on a civilian bus at a local hospital in Kandahar, south of Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, April 12, 2010. The international troops opened fire on the civilian bus early Monday in a southern Afghan city, killing four people and wounding 18, the local governor's spokesman said.(AP Photo/Allauddin Khan)

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — International troops opened fire on a bus
carrying Afghan civilians Monday, killing four people, an Afghan
official said, setting off anti-American protests in a key southern
city where coalition forces hope to rally the public for a coming
offensive against the Taliban.

Elsewhere in the city of Kandahar,
three suicide bombers attacked an Afghan intelligence services
compound, but were killed after security forces opened fire on them,
said the provincial government spokesman. Four intelligence agents and
six civilians, including a teacher at a nearby school, were injured in
the attack, said the spokesman, Zelmai Ayubi.

Kandahar, the
largest city in southern Afghanistan, was the birthplace of the Taliban
regime ousted in 2001 and insurgents remain active there despite a
heavy presence of foreign forces. Securing it is key to the U.S.
military and NATO's aim of turning around the more than eight-year war,
but anger stirred by civilian deaths threatens to undercut local
support.

Monday's shooting on the bus in Kandahar province's
Zhari district left four dead and another 18 people wounded, Ayubi
said. He said international forces took 12 of the wounded to a military
hospital. NATO said it was investigating the shooting and planned to
issue a statement later Monday.

A passenger interviewed at
Kandahar hospital, Rozi Mohammad, said they had just left the Kandahar
terminal when the bus pulled over to allow an American convoy to pass.
Shooting broke out as the third or fourth American vehicle went by, he
said, with gunfire coming from the direction of the convoy.

"They
just suddenly opened fire, I don't know why. We had been stopped and
after that I don't know what happened," said Mohammad, his left eye was
swollen shut and his beard and clothing matted with blood. Doctors said
he had suffered a head injury but did not yet know how serious it was.

Within
hours, scores of Afghans had blocked the main highway out of Kandahar
city with burning tires, chanting "Death to America," and calling for
the downfall of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, himself a Kandahar
native.

"The Americans are constantly killing our civilians and
the government is not demanding an explanation," said resident Mohammad
Razaq. "We demand justice from the Karzai government and the punishment
of those soldiers responsible."

NATO and Afghan authorities
declined to identify the international forces involved by nationality,
although numerous eyewitnesses said they were American.

Karzai issued a statement condemning the attack and expressing condolences to the victims.

"This shooting involving a civilian bus violates NATO's commitment to safeguard civilian life," Karzai said.

In
the attack on the intelligence compound, Afghan forces with automatic
weapons engaged the would-be bombers for 20 minutes, wounding one of
the attackers who then detonated his explosives belt, said Ahmed Wali
Karzai, the head of the provincial council, who is also the president's
half brother. The other two bombers were also killed, although it
wasn't clear if they too had blown themselves up, Karzai said.

NATO
is gearing up for long-anticipated allied operation to push the Taliban
out of Kandahar, from which the hardline Islamic movement emerged as a
political and military force in the 1990s.

Kandahar's mayor said
Monday's shootings would likely deal a major setback to coalition hopes
of winning popular support for the upcoming offensive.

"I've told
the Americans and NATO that people are very angry about these kinds of
attacks," Gulam Hamidi told The Associated Press. "I've told them
'You're making enemies.'"

The top NATO commander in Afghanistan,
U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has issued strict orders to his troops to
try to reduce civilian casualties. But these still occur regularly,
unleashing raw emotions that highlight a growing impatience with
coalition forces' inability to secure the nation.

Kandahar
spokesman Ayubi said the provincial government strongly condemned the
shooting. NATO spokesman Mst. Sgt. Jeff Loftin said the alliance had
dispatched a team to the scene to investigate, but didn't say whether
its troops were responsible for the civilian deaths.

Loftin said the local command in Kandahar had no further information on what had happened.

With
troop levels rising amid heightened violence, at least 2,412 Afghan
civilians were killed in fighting last year, an increase of 14 percent
from 2008, according to the United Nations. The U.N. attributed 67
percent of those deaths to insurgents who use ambushes, assassinations
and roadside bombs to spread terror, undermine development and punish
Afghans seen as cooperating with foreign forces and the Karzai
government.

NATO earlier this month confirmed that international
troops were responsible for the deaths of five people, including three
women, killed Feb. 12 in Gardez, south of Kabul. An Afghan government
report on the incident claims U.S. special forces had mistaken their
targets and later sought to cover up the killings by digging bullets
out of bodies, according to investigators who requested anonymity
because they were not authorized to speak with the media.

Associated Press writers Rahim Faiez, Slobodan Lekic and Christopher Bodeen contributed to this story from Kabul.

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