Tuesday, February 05, 2008

10 Die in Mistaken Afghan Firefight - New York Times

10 Die in Mistaken Afghan Firefight - New York Times:
“Another big cruelty was made by American forces this morning.”

"At least nine Afghan police officers and a civilian were killed early Thursday in a firefight between American forces and the officers in Ghazni Province, just south of the capital, local officials said.

The American forces were searching houses in a village on the outskirts of Ghazni town and blew open the gates of a house, according to local Afghan officials. District police officers heard the explosion and rushed to the scene, suspecting that the Taliban were in the area, but were themselves mistaken for Taliban and shot by the American soldiers, the officials said. Aircraft supporting the operation fired on one of the police cars.

The killings set off protests in the town on Thursday afternoon, and demonstrators blocked the main highway and prevented a government delegation from reaching the town from a nearby airfield, local officials said.

“Another big cruelty was made by American forces this morning,” said Khial Muhammad Hussaini, a member of Parliament from the province who was among the elders and legislators who had traveled to the town to try to calm people and persuade them to reopen the highway.

Zemarai Bashary, a spokesman for the Ministry of the Interior in Kabul, confirmed the shooting and called it a “misunderstanding,” but said he had information on only eight deaths.

The confrontation happened when United States forces were conducting a night raid on the compound of a man suspected of being an insurgent and of organizing suicide bombings, according to Maj. Chris Belcher, the spokesman for the United States military at Bagram Air Base. The soldiers were part of the United States-led coalition that conducts counterterrorism operations, not part of the NATO-led force in Afghanistan, he said.

The American soldiers came under fire from insurgent forces and fired back, Major Belcher said. He suggested that those killed were insurgents and said that he had no information on whether they were members of the national police. “I know there were some deaths, but I don’t have a number,” he said.

The Afghan government has repeatedly requested that United States forces coordinate with local authorities and take along Afghan security forces during operations because there have been many instances in which Americans have inadvertently killed civilians or local police officers.

But Mr. Hussaini, the Parliament member, said the American forces involved had not coordinated with any government authority before or during the raid.

Hajji Zaher, an elder in Ghazni town, gave this account: “At 3 a.m., when the Americans were searching the houses and when they blew up the gates, the police rushed to the area thinking that they were Taliban. And at the same time the Americans thought that the police were Taliban and there was a firefight.”

Habib-u Rahman, deputy chief of the Ghazni provincial council, said that nine police officers, including a district police chief, and a civilian had been killed and that four other police officers and a woman had been wounded.

“After the police came under fire, the police officers got out of their vehicle, and their vehicle was shot by a rocket from the plane,” Mr. Rahman said.

Eight people were detained by American soldiers, Mr. Rahman said, but two were from the provincial Education Department."

con·cept: 10 Die in Mistaken Afghan Firefight - New York Times