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Old 12 April 2010, 13:51
"TheSiatonist" "TheSiatonist" is offline
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Civilians Killed as U.S. Troops Fire on Afghan Bus

KABUL, Afghanistan — American troops raked a large passenger bus with gunfire near Kandahar on Monday morning, killing as many as five civilians and wounding 18 and sparking anger in a city where winning over Afghan support is considered pivotal to the war effort.

The American-led military command in Kabul called the killings a “tragic loss of life” and said troops fired not knowing the vehicle was a bus and believing that it posed a threat to a military convoy clearing roadside bombs from a highway.

The killings triggered a vitriolic anti-American demonstration, infuriated officials and appeared likely to harm public opinion on the eve of the most important offensive of the war, in which tens of thousands of American and NATO troops will try to take control of the Kandahar region, the spiritual home of the Taliban, this summer.

Hundreds of demonstrators poured into the area around a station where the damaged bus was taken on the western outskirts of Kandahar. They blocked the road with burning tires for an hour and shouted “Death to America” and “Death to infidels” while also condemning the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, according to people in the area.

The Kandahar governor, Tooryalai Wesa, called for the commander of the military convoy who opened fire to be prosecuted under military law.

“If you want to stop the bus, it should be shot in the tires,” Mr. Wesa said. “Why shoot the people inside?”

Mr. Karzai, whose relationship with the United States has been particularly fraught in recent weeks, called the shooting “unjustifiable” and said that “firing on a passenger bus is against the NATO commitment to save civilian lives.”

While the military confirmed the shooting, there were disputes over details, including the number of dead, the relative positions of the convoys, and whether the troops who fired on the bus had first shot flares and warned the driver to stay back.

The killings were the latest deadly case of what the military calls “escalation of force,” in which troops guarding military convoys or checkpoints gun down Afghans perceived as a threat because they have come too close or are traveling too fast. Deadly force is supposed to be used on encroaching vehicles only after warning shots, flares or other tactics.

Despite a drop in overall civilian deaths from American and NATO forces, checkpoint and convoy shootings have not declined, worrying commanders who believe such killings turn Afghans against the occupation. More than 30 people have been killed and 80 wounded in these cases since last summer, but not one of the dead was found to have been a threat, military officials say.

The shooting in Kandahar occurred just after daybreak, as the bus was taking scores of passengers to Nimroz Province, said Zalmy Ayoubi, a spokesman for Governor Wesa.

Two people who had been on the bus said that an American convoy 60 to 70 yards ahead opened fire as the bus began to pull to the side of the road to allow another military convoy to pass from behind.

“An American convoy was ahead of us and another convoy was following us, and we were going to pull off of the road, and suddenly the Americans opened fire,” said one, a passenger, Nida Muhammad, who suffered a shoulder wound.

“We were not close to them, maybe 60 yards away from their convoy,” Mr. Mohammed said. A helicopter came for some wounded, he said.

“This bus wasn’t like an a suicide bomber, and we did not touch or come close to the convoy,” he said. “It seems they are opening fire on civilians intentionally.”

The two convoys and the bus were on the main highway in Sanzari, about 15 miles west of Kandahar city. The windows on one side of the bus were shot out.

Governor Wesa and his spokesman both said five civilians had been killed , and 18 wounded. Mr. Wesa blamed American forces and said a dozen of the wounded were in serious condition.

The Interior Ministry in Kabul issued a statement saying four civilians had been killed and 18 wounded and blamed “NATO forces” traveling in front of the bus. If the casualty toll is correct, it would imply that troops may have fired scores of rounds.

A statement issued by the American-led military command in Kabul placed the death toll at four. It said “an unknown, large vehicle” drove “at a high rate of speed” toward a slow-moving NATO convoy that was clearing mines from the highway. The convoy could not move to the side of the road to let the vehicle pass because of a steep embankment. Troops then used a flashlight and three flares to try to warn the driver, who did not respond.

“Perceiving a threat when the vehicle approached once more at an increased rate of speed, the patrol attempted to warn off the vehicle with hand signals prior to firing upon it,” the statement said. “Once engaged, the vehicle then stopped.”

“Upon inspection,” it said, NATO forces “discovered the vehicle to be a passenger bus.”

A military spokeswoman confirmed that a military convoy traveling westward, in front of the bus, had opened fire, but said the second convoy was traveling eastward towards the passenger bus. She also said the driver of the passenger bus was killed.

However, a survivor identified himself as the driver said the bus and said he did not violate any signal from the troops.

“I was going to take the bus off the road,” said the man, Mohammed Nabi. Then the convoy ahead opened fire from a distance of 60 to 70 yards.

“It is a huge bus full of passengers, and if they think we were a suicide bomber, we are sad that the Americans have killed innocent people,” he said. “We don’t feel safe while traveling on the main highways anymore because of NATO convoys.”

The American and NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, has sought to emphasize to troops how escalation of force incidents undermine Afghan support for the war. But he has also stressed that he sympathizes with troops who have to make critical decisions in an instant and is not criticizing them.

“We really ask a lot of our young service people out on checkpoints because there’s danger, they’re asked to make very rapid decisions in often very unclear situations,” General McChrystal told troops during a video conference last month.

“However, to my knowledge, in the nine-plus months I’ve been here, not a single case where we have engaged in an escalation of force incident and hurt someone has it turned out that the vehicle had a suicide bomb or weapons in it and, in many cases, had families in it.”

Underscoring the instability in Kandahar, hours after the bus shooting a team of suicide bombers attacked the Kandahar office of the Afghan intelligence service known as the National Directorate of Security. There was no immediate indication that attack was related to the bus shooting.

One suicide bomber exploded before he could reach his target, while guards shot and killed the second and shot and detained the third, Governor Wesa said. Four officers of the directorate and five civilians were wounded, he said.

Source
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Damn. Such a tragic thing to happen at a time when a lot of similar incidents have already hurt NATO efforts.

Could this have happened at night? I mean a large bus full of people can't be ID'd as a car/truck bomb, can it?

RIP to the civilians.
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Old 12 April 2010, 14:01
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MPCOA MPCOA is offline
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60 yards is close, and in reality it was probably closer, sorry.
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Old 12 April 2010, 14:54
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John6719 John6719 is offline
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That's a bad situation, on both sides. I agree, 60 yards is damn close, even at a relatively slow speed (hell an explosion from 60 yards from a VBIED that size would be bad enough). It's a tough decision to make and as long as they acted according to the ROE, I hope their CoC doesn't let them down.
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