U.S. Convoy Attacked; Afghan Civilians Killed

By REUTERS

New York Times

March 4, 2007

JALALABAD, Afghanistan, March 4 (Reuters) - Sixteen Afghan civilians were killed after a "complex" Taliban ambush on a U.S. convoy involving a suicide car-bomb attack and militant gunfire, the U.S. military in Afghanistan said on Sunday.

Afghan authorities said 10 civilians were killed and more than 30 wounded, at least eight of them when U.S. troops opened fire after the blast. They said they were not aware of the convoy coming under fire from gunmen after the blast.

Hundreds of angry Afghans protested after the violence, blocking the road near the eastern city of Jalalabad where the attack happened and throwing stones at police.

The U.S. military said its troops had returned fire in defence after a "complex ambush" but it did not make clear how the 16 civilians were killed and 24 wounded. The incident was being investigated by U.S and Afghan forces, it said.

Earlier, a provincial government spokesman said civilians died when troops in the convoy opened fire after the blast.

"The soldiers in the convoy fired in self defence resulting in the killing and wounding of some civilians," said the spokesman, Noor Agha Zwak.

Provincial police spokesman Abdul Ghafour said the U.S. troops were responsible for the civilian casualties. Deputy provincial governor Abdullah Wafa said the deaths of 10 civilians had been registered.

The U.S. military laid the blame on the Taliban.

"We regret the death of innocent Afghan citizens as a result of the Taliban extremists' cowardly act," U.S. spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel David Accetta said in a statement.

One member of the U.S. force was wounded.

The killing of civilians is sensitive for foreign troops and the Western-backed government of President Hamid Karzai.

Bombing and accidental shootings by Western forces feeds resentment of the government and its allies and even bolsters support for the Taliban, analysts say.

More than 45,000 foreign troops are in Afghanistan battling a resurgent Taliban who have threatened a spring offensive after the bloodiest year since their ouster by U.S. forces in 2001.

In a separate incident, two NATO soldiers were killed during combat operations in the south on Saturday. Their nationalities were not given.

In Britain, the Ministry of Defence said two of its soldiers died in a rocket attack in the south, but did not say when.

TALIBAN WARNING

The Taliban have been distributing leaflets in the south in recent days, warning of their new offensive and giving advice on how to avoid being caught up in their attacks.

A one-page leaflet in the Pashto language distributed in the town of Spin Boldak said people should keep their distance from gatherings of foreign or Afghan forces and their convoys.

NATO gave no details of the fighting in which two of its soldiers were killed but residents of the violence-plagued Sangin district of the southern province of Helmand said there had been heavy fighting there on Saturday.

Several people who identified themselves as residents of the district said up to 30 civilians were killed in NATO bombing.

A senior provincial official who declined to be identified said he was aware of 11 civilians killed in the bombing.

A spokesman for NATO in Kabul, Colonel Tom Collins, confirmed there had been fighting in the area but said he had no reports of civilian casualties.