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Afghan, U.S. reports on firefight differ

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070304/ap_on_re_as/afghan_violence Afghan, U.S. reports on firefight differ By RAHIM FAIEZ, Associated Press Writer 52 minutes ago
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 4, 2007
      http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070304/ap_on_re_as/afghan_violence

      Afghan, U.S. reports on firefight differ

      By RAHIM FAIEZ, Associated Press Writer 52 minutes ago

      JALALABAD, Afghanistan - A U.S. Marine convoy was
      attacked by a suicide bomber and militant ambush
      Sunday on a busy highway in eastern Afghanistan, and
      witnesses said that as the Americans sped away, they
      opened fire on civilian cars and pedestrians. As many
      as 10 people were killed and 35 were wounded.

      The American military said it was unclear who was
      responsible for the casualties but more than a half
      dozen Afghans recuperating from bullet wounds told The
      Associated Press that the U.S. forces fired
      indiscriminately as they drove away along at least a
      six-mile stretch of one of eastern Afghanistan's
      busiest highways — a route often filled not only with
      cars and trucks but Afghans on foot and bicycles.

      A suicide attacker detonated an explosives-filled
      minivan as the American convoy approached, then
      militant gunmen fired on the troops inside the
      vehicles, who returned fire, the U.S. military said.

      The Americans treated every car and person along the
      highway as a potential attacker, said Mohammad Khan
      Katawazi, the district chief of Shinwar.

      "They were firing everywhere, and they even opened
      fire on 14 to 15 vehicles passing on the highway,"
      said Tur Gul, 38, who was standing on the roadside by
      a gas station and was shot twice in his right hand.
      "They opened fire on everybody, the ones inside the
      vehicles and the ones on foot."

      Lt. Col. David Accetta, a U.S. military spokesman,
      said officials were still sorting out the chain of
      events and could not yet say who caused the numerous
      deaths and injuries.

      The tolls varied widely. The Interior Ministry said 10
      people were killed; the provincial health chief, Ajmel
      Pardus, said eight died.

      The U.S. military said eight civilians were killed and
      35 wounded, after earlier saying 16 were killed and 24
      wounded. It did not explain the revised, lower death
      toll, saying only that the new figures were "the most
      accurate numbers to date." A U.S. soldier was also
      injured. The incident was under investigation, the
      military said.

      "It's not entirely clear right now if the people
      killed or wounded by gunfire were killed or wounded by
      coalition forces gunfire or enemy attackers gunfire,"
      Accetta said.

      Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary said the
      chief of the Interior Ministry's criminal division
      would lead a delegation to Nangarhar province on
      Monday to investigate. Bashary said it appeared that
      gunfire from the U.S. soldiers caused most of the
      casualties.

      The gunfire from Americans prompted angry
      demonstrations in the region — just 30 miles west of
      the Pakistan border. Hundreds of Afghans blocked the
      road and threw rocks at police, with some
      demonstrators shouting "Death to America! Death to
      Karzai," a reference to President Hamid Karzai.

      At the Jalalabad hospital, several victims said the
      American convoy approached them on the highway and
      opened fire. As the convoy neared, many cars pulled
      over to the side of the road, but were still hit by
      gunfire.

      "When we parked our vehicle, when they passed us, they
      opened fire on our vehicle," said 15-year-old Mohammad
      Ishaq, who was hit by two bullets, in his left arm and
      his right ear. "It was a convoy of three American
      Humvees. All three humvees were firing around."

      Ahmed Najib, 23, lay in the next bed, hit by a bullet
      in his right shoulder.

      "One American was in the first vehicle, shouting to
      stop on the side of the road, and we stopped. The
      first vehicle did not fire on us, but the second
      opened fire on our car," Najib said, adding that his
      2-year-old brother was grazed by a bullet on his
      cheek. "I saw them turning and firing in this
      direction, then turning and firing in that direction.
      I even saw a farmer shot by the Americans."

      NATO and U.S. forces are often accused of firing at
      Afghan civilians they fear may be about to launch an
      attack. Though officials say the shootings are done in
      self defense, they often injure or kill innocent
      civilians. On Dec. 3, British troops speeding away
      from a suicide bomb attack in Kandahar city opened
      fire on cars, killing one civilian and wounding six
      others.

      U.S. forces near Sunday's bombing later deleted photos
      taken by a freelance photographer working for The
      Associated Press and video taken by a freelancer
      working for AP Television News. Neither the
      photographer nor the cameraman witnessed the suicide
      attack or the subsequent gunfire. It was not
      immediately known why the soldiers deleted the photos
      and videos. The U.S. military did not immediately
      comment on the matter.

      The freelance photographer, Rahmat Gul, said he took
      photos of a four-wheel drive vehicle where three
      Afghans had been shot to death inside.

      An American soldier then took Gul's camera and deleted
      the photos. Gul said he later received permission to
      take photos from another soldier, but that the first
      soldier came back and angrily told him to delete the
      photos again. Gul said the soldier then raised his
      fist as if he was going to strike Gul.

      The U.S. forces involved in the attack and ensuing
      gunfire were part of the U.S.-led coalition, not
      NATO's International Security Assistance Force. An
      official who asked not to be identified said the
      troops were Marine Special Forces.

      A man claiming to speak for Hezb-e-Islami, a group he
      said is linked with the Taliban, claimed
      responsibility for the bombing and identified the
      attacker as an Afghan named Haji Ihsanullah in a
      telephone call to AP. The spokesman said that the
      attack was carried out by a breakaway faction of
      Hezb-e-Islami that was once led by Younis Khalis, a
      former mujahedeen commander who died last year. The
      group is now believed to be led by a son of Khalis.

      The purported spokesman, who identified himself as
      Qari Sajjad, said the explosion "destroyed two
      vehicles, killing or injuring American soldiers."
      Sajjad said the attack was in revenge for "cruel acts"
      done to Afghans by U.S. forces.

      Accetta, the U.S. spokesman, said the attack
      demonstrated the militants' "blatant disregard for
      human life" by attacking forces in a populated area.
      NATO officials repeatedly say that suicide bombs aimed
      at international and Afghan forces kill far more
      civilians than soldiers.

      Two British soldiers were killed in a rocket attack in
      southern Afghanistan's Helmand province, the British
      defense ministry said Sunday. The latest deaths bring
      to 50 the number of British troops killed since a
      U.S.-led invasion overthrew Afghanistan's Taliban
      regime in November 2001.
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