KABUL - Angry protests have erupted in two Afghan provinces against killings of civilians in military operations by coalition troops on Taliban targets.On Monday, thousands of furious people took to the streets to denounce a "cold blooded massacre" of dozens of civilians by coalition troops in western Herat provinces, which has been relatively calm.
The previous day, protestors blocked the busy Jalalabad-Torkham Road in Ghanikhel district, eastern Nangarhar province, to protest the killings of four rebel fighters and two women by "American soldiers" who raided a compound on a tip-off that the cell was plotting suicide car bomb attacks on coalition forces in the coming weeks.
But the U.S.-led coalition insisted Apr. 30 that the 136 killed by American and Afghan forces in operations over three days in Zerkoh Valley of Herat were Taliban insurgents, including two local commanders.
Belying the coalition assertion, a large number of angry residents - demonstrating against the operations ÃƒÂ» torched the Shindand district headquarters. "Scores of civilians have perished in the clash and the subsequent air strike," one demonstrator told Pajhwok Afghan News.
Abdul Ghafoor revealed many scared families had fled the locality in the wake of the battle that lasted several hours. He saw no justification for the coalition action in an area "where there are no armed groups", claiming the troops killed ordinary people without ascertaining enemy locations.
Another dweller of Shindand, Abdul Manan, echoed Ghafoor's version of the situation. The ruthless overnight bombardment continued till 10 am, he said, claiming war-weary residents were shifting to safer places after the fierce battles.
Police spokesman Col. Noor Khan Nekzad, confirming the large-scale demonstration against foreign forces, said he had no information about the burning of the district offices.
Meanwhile, Qari Yousaf Ahmadi, speaking for the insurgents, claimed Taliban fighters had killed at least 28 foreign and Afghan troops in the engagements besides setting alight two military vehicles.
However, the coalition said that the forces, tipped off about militant activity in the Zerkoh Valley, launched an attack on Taliban positions with mortar, small arms and rocket-propelled grenade fire.
Later on, Afghan National Army (ANA) and coalition reinforcements joined the troops, who radioed for close air support to target the rebel positions. An aircraft dropped multiple munitions on several enemy targets, the coalition said.
In a statement issued from the Bagram air-field, the coalition said as Taliban fighters tried to flee, an AC-130 gunship engaged and killed 26 fighters on both sides of the river valley.
"A total of seven enemy positions were destroyed and 87 Taliban fighters killed during a 14-hour engagement," the statement said of the battle that took place 37 miles ( 59.5 km) south of Shindand on Sunday.
Another 49 guerrillas, including two local Taliban commanders, were killed two days earlier by a combination of small-arms fire and close air support near the Parmakan village in the same valley.
The clash was triggered by a rebel attack on a joint patrol of Afghan police and U.S. Special Forces in the area, the coalition said. One U.S. soldier was also killed in the engagement.
"Taliban fighters are no match for ANA and coalition forces," said Army Maj. Chris Belcher, Combined Joint Task Force-82 spokesman.
"We will intensify our operations to rid Afghanistan of all Taliban and foreign fighters who harm innocent Afghan civilians and threaten the government of Afghanistan," the spokesman vowed.
The almost daily gun battles between a resurgent Taliban and coalition troops in Afghanistan to prop up the Hamid Karzai government have claimed at least 4,000 civilian lives since 2006.
Reports from southern Helmand province on Sunday confirmed six children and women were killed as NATO warplanes bombarded houses in Kharko area of Garmser district. But police denied the pounding of civilian targets in the air strike.
Ghulam Shah, a resident of Kharko, told Pajhwok Afghan News all the dead were ordinary villagers with no links to any militant group. The area was pounded after Taliban gunmen attacked an ISAF convoy, he said.
Protestors in Nangarhar province alleged that soldiers shot dead in cold blood six people including two women in the dawn raid. Coffins of the slain lay on the roadside during the noisy protest, a local tribal elder told Pajhwok Afghan News.
But the coalition said in a statement the six people were killed in retaliatory fire from the raiding party. After being fired upon, the forces retaliated, killing four militants, an adult woman and a teenage girl, it added.
(*Released under agreement with Pajhwok Afghan News)
Copyright © 2007 IPS-Inter Press Service.