JALALABAD, Afghanistan - US Marines fleeing a
militant ambush Sunday opened fire on civilian cars and pedestrians on a busy
highway in eastern Afghanistan, wounded Afghans said. Up to 16 people were
killed and 34 wounded in the violence, officials said.
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 US military said.
As the Americans sped away, they treated every car and person along the
highway as a potential attacker, said Mohammad Khan Katawazi, the district chief
of Shinwar. But Maj. William Mitchell, a US military spokesman, said those
killed and injured may have been shot by the militants.
than a half dozen Afghans recuperating from bullet wounds told The Associated
Press that the US forces fired indiscriminately 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 wounded Afghan receives medical attention as
he lies in a hospital bed in Jalalabad after being injured during a
suicide car bomb attack on an US convoy. Sixteen civilians were killed in
eastern Afghanistan when a US convoy was ambushed and troops returned
fire, the US-led coalition said.[AFP]
'They opened fire on everybody'
"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."
The casualty tolls varied widely. The US military said 16 civilians were
killed and 24 wounded "during the initial attack." A US soldier was also
injured. The incident was under investigation, the military said.
"We certainly believe it's possible that the incoming fire from the ambush
was wholly or partly responsible for the civilian casualties," Mitchell said.
Nangarhar provincial health chief Ajmel Pardus said eight people were killed,
including a woman and two boys, and 34 were wounded. Four of the wounded were in
critical condition, he 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 US
soldiers caused most of the casualties.
'Death to America!'
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 US 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.