Two Afghans were killed in Wardak province on Tuesday when public protests against US special forces for their role in the possible torture and murder of "disappeared" villagers turned heated and Afghan police reportedly opened fire on the crowd.
At issue is a bizarre series of events surrounding the mysterious workings of an Afghan military police unit and its connection to a US special forces outpost in the Nerkh district of Wardak. Though the US denies any knowledge or responsibility for the Afghan villagers who went missing and later turned up dead, local witnesses say the US forces were supporting and sheltering the shadowy operations.
The Guardian reports:
When relatives identified three mutilated bodies dug up near a former US special forces base as their missing family members, they decided to take the corpses to the capital of restive Wardak province and organise a protest to spread word of their loss.
By noon on Tuesday, hundreds of people had flooded the streets of Maidan Shar town, blocking the main road to Kandahar and Kabul and shouting "Death to America" and "Death to special forces". By early afternoon two more men were dead and one seriously injured after police opened fire to control what they said was an increasingly violent crowd.
The three bodies were just the latest grisly discovery in the troubled Nerkh district, where locals say a string of civilians disappeared into a military base housing US special forces. They claim they were then tortured and killed. Their families blame American forces, although the base was shared with Afghan troops and a US military spokesman strongly denied any abuses by foreign soldiers.
But locals have continued to blame US forces. "We have found 10 bodies of people killed by Americans in total, seven before and three more today, on the west side of the US base," said Sediqullah, a de-miner whose brother's body was one of the three found on Monday.
"His name was Atiqullah, he was 38 years old and a shopkeeper in Maidan Shar," said the 42-year-old, before going on to list the names and professions of the other dead, who included a teacher, a taxi driver, a government worker and casual labourers. He said their bodies bore signs of torture.
"They cut their fingers and beat their stomach and head with rocks," he said by phone from his home just outside Maidan Shar. "They were poor people who just had ordinary business and were just working to feed their families."
A senior Wardak politician said the 10 men all vanished at the end of last year, and their families had been seeking news of them for months.
The Associated Press reports that though an investigation is underway "it was too soon to say if the three were among at least nine people who villagers say disappeared into American custody and were never seen again."
AP also describes how the protest unfolded, though how exactly two Afghans ended up dead remained murky:
Tuesday's rally brought a car with the three bodies to the local provincial governor's office, then protesters fanned out and blocked traffic on the main road from Kabul to Kandahar, said Fahimi, the council member.
"They were throwing stones and shouting against the government and the (American) special forces, saying, `We want the killers of these innocent civilians to be prosecuted,'" Fahimi said.
The demonstrators tried to get into the governor's office, and police fired in the air to stop them, he said.
He added that at least two protesters were killed but he was unsure if they had been shot or trampled.
The U.S. has repeatedly denied accusations that people arrested by special forces in Wardak province died in American custody. However, villagers accuse the Americans and their Afghan partners of intimidation through unprovoked beatings, mass arrests and forced detentions.