U.S. forces kill 12 rebels in Afghanistan
U.S. airstrikes and ground troops killed 12 insurgents who had attacked a coalition patrol in eastern Afghanistan's border region in the latest wave of fighting with Taliban-led rebels, the U.S. military said Sunday.
The United Nations called for Afghan human rights investigators to be allowed into Bagram, the main U.S. base in Afghanistan, after the New York Times reported poorly trained U.S. soldiers there had repeatedly abused prisoners.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, on the eve of his Monday meeting with President Bush in Washington, said he was angry about the reported abuse and called for more Afghan control over the operations of the 16,700 U.S. troops in his country as well as punishment for any U.S. soldiers who mistreat prisoners.
Also on Sunday, an Afghan government spokesman said a kidnapped Italian aid worker Clementina Cantoni is alive and healthy and that Afghan officials are in contact with her kidnappers to secure her release. The announcement came two days after reports quoting the purported kidnapper as saying he had killed her because the government did not agree to his demands.
Saturday's fighting in eastern Paktika province left one U.S. soldier slightly wounded. Spokesman Lt. Col. Jerry O'Hara said rebels had sneaked across the border from Pakistan and had opened fire on American and Afghan forces.
Pakistani military spokesman Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan said shells from the fighting landed in Pakistan, and that no one was hurt there. But a Pakistani intelligence official in the area said on condition of anonymity that villagers had retrieved the bodies of five unidentified men.
After a winter lull, loyalists of the ousted Taliban regime and other militants opposed to Karzai's U.S.-backed government have ramped up their insurgency.
The latest violence came as Karzai prepared to meet Bush in Washington, where the two leaders are expected to discuss the prisoner abuse allegations among other topics.
The New York Times on Sunday detailed fresh allegations of mistreatment of prisoners by U.S. forces, citing the Army's criminal investigation into the deaths of two Afghans at the Bagram base north of the capital Kabul in December 2002.
In Texas, U.S. soldier Spc. Brian E. Commack was sentenced in a court-martial on Friday to three months in prison after pleading guilty to the 2002 attack on prisoner Mullah Habibullah in Afghanistan. Cammack, a member of the Army Reserve's 377th Military Police Company in Cincinnati, said he was angry when he struck the prisoner twice in the thigh with his knee. The prisoner had allegedly spit on his chest.
In a plea bargain, Army prosecutors agreed not to pursue a charge of maltreatment against Cammack, who agreed to testify in other cases related to the deaths of two inmates at Bagram. He will be demoted to private, fined more than $3,200 and given a bad-conduct discharge.
Karzai — often viewed by critics as an American puppet — insisted that abusers be punished.
"This is simply not acceptable," he told CNN. "We are angry about this. We want justice. We want the people responsible for this sort of brutal behavior punished and tried and made public."
The U.S. military has said it would not tolerate any abuse. The White House said Friday that Bush was "alarmed" by the reports of abuse and wants them investigated thoroughly. The White House said seven people were being investigated in connection with abuse at Bagram.
Karzai also called for an end to U.S. raids on Afghans' homes unless the government is notified beforehand. The Defense Ministry said all arrests should now be made by Afghan authorities.
"Operations that involve going to people's homes, that involves knocking on people's doors, must stop, must not be done without the permission of the Afghan government," Karzai said.
The United Nations also entered the prisoner abuse controversy on Sunday.
Richard Provencher, U.N. spokesman in Afghanistan, said all Afghan detainees should be treated in accordance with international law and called for "firm guarantees" that there would be no more maltreatment.
"Such abuses are utterly unacceptable and an affront to everything the international community stands for," he said.
He said abusers should be punished and that investigators from the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission should have access to detainees and be allowed to monitor their cases.
The International Committee of the Red Cross is allowed to visit detainees at Bagram and at the main U.S. base in southern Afghanistan at Kandahar. The Afghan rights commission has sought access before, without success.
The U.S. military did not immediately respond to requests for comment Sunday.
In December, Pentagon officials said eight deaths of detainees in Afghanistan had been investigated since mid-2002. Hundreds were detained during and after the campaign by U.S.-led forces to oust the hardline Taliban regime in late 2001.
After the outcry over abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, the military also began reviewing its detention facilities in Afghanistan and later said it had modified some procedures, although the review's findings have not been made public.
The latest allegations come at a sensitive time. Anti-U.S. riots broke out across the country earlier this month, leaving at least 15 people dead. The unrest was triggered by a Newsweek magazine report, later retracted, that the Quran was defiled by interrogators at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.