Anti-American Anger Grows in Afghanistan

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Globe and Mail

Anti-American Anger Grows in Afghanistan

Protesters take to the streets after U.S. troops open fire on passenger bus outside Kandahar city, killing four civilians

by
Sonia Verma

Afghan police and onlookers gather around the bus that U.S. forces opened fire on in Kandahar city on Mon., April 12. Four civilians were killed in the incident. Ahmad Nadeem/Reuters

U.S. troops fired on a crowded
passenger bus on the outskirts of Kandahar city, killing four civilians
and injuring 18 others, stoking anti-American protests that promised to
complicate a massive offensive against Taliban insurgents this summer.

Although
the military command issued an apology, saying it “deeply regrets the
tragic loss of life,” Monday’s incident cast fresh doubts on Operation
Omid, billed as the pivotal offensive of the war, which will see tens
of thousands of NATO troops attempt to seize control of Kandahar.

NATO
officials were already struggling to win support for the offensive from
ordinary Afghans and tribal elders who had expressed concern over the
potential for “collateral damage.”

Monday’s shooting appeared to
confirm those fears, with angry Afghans spilling into the streets,
burning tires and chanting “Death to America.”

“People brought
the bus to Kandahar bus station and drivers and ordinary people
protested against Americans,” said a man named Naqibullah who attended
the protest, which he said “showed the anger of the people against the
Americans.”

The shooting occurred before dawn when a bus carrying
about 50 passengers travelling west on the main highway from Kandahar
city approached a military convoy on a road-clearing mission, sweeping
for land mines and improvised explosive devices.

Military officials said in a statement that “an unknown, large vehicle” drove “at a high rate of speed” toward the convoy.

Troops signalled the driver to stop with flares, flashlights and hand signals before firing, according to the statement.

“Once engaged, the vehicle then stopped,” the statement read. Later, NATO forces “discovered the vehicle to be a passenger bus.”

Rozi Mohammad, a 40-year-old man from Zabul province who was injured in the shooting, suggested the darkness caused confusion.

“I
was in the front seat when we were faced with the convoy. It was dark.
I only saw fire from the Americans. … Many people were injured and
killed. After some time helicopters landed and took us … for
treatment,” he recounted in an interview at Kandahar’s Mirwais hospital
where he was being treated for his wounds.

It was unclear what effect, if any, the shooting would have the timing of Operation Omid, which is set to launch in June.

On
a visit to Kandahar city two weeks ago, Afghan President Hamid Karzai
vowed the offensive would not take place without the people’s consent.

His
comments were puzzling to many observers, because tens of thousands of
U.S. troops have already arrived in the region in preparation for the
mission.

However, they also underscored the importance of local
consent in NATO’s counterinsurgency strategy, which relies on locals to
supply coalition troops with intelligence ahead of any military
offensive.

Anger over civilian deaths has hobbled Western efforts to draw support away from the insurgency.

The
latest United Nations report suggests militants were responsible for 55
per cent of war-related civilian deaths in Afghanistan in 2008, the
last year for which figures were available. However, 39 per cent were
killed by coalition or Afghan forces.

U.S. officials have said Mr. Karzai’s support will be crucial for the offensive to be successful.

The Afghan leader condemned the shooting and offered condolences to the families of the victims.

With a report from Globe and Mail staff in Kandahar

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