US military blamed for Afghan civilian deaths
The actions of US troops in Afghanistan have sparked criticism, demonstrations, and calls for investigations after at least 17 civilians were killed in two separate incidents, and soldiers reportedly then deleted journalists' photos and video footage of the aftermath of one of the attacks.Skip to next paragraph
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The BBC reports that at least eight civilians were killed by gunfire Sunday after a suicide bomber targeted a US convoy on road from Jalalabad to Pakistan in what US forces described as a "complex ambush." US military spokesman Maj. William Mitchell said that incoming fire on US troops from gunmen in the area "was wholly or partly responsible for the civilian casualties."
However, The Associated Press reports that witnesses at the scene said most of the bullets that lead to the casualties were from American forces. The incidents prompted angry demonstrations by hundreds of Afghans who shouted "Death to America! Death to [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai!"
Nine witnesses, including five Afghans recuperating from bullet wounds in the hospital, told The Associated Press that U.S. 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.
According to the AP, Lt. Col. David Accetta, the top US military spokesman in Afghanistan, maintained that "it's not entirely clear right now" whether the civilians were casualties of enemy fire, although he didn't deny that they may have been shot by "coalition forces."
CNN reports that Zmarai Bashiri, a spokesman for Afghanistan's Interior Ministry, said that after the suicide bomb attack, US forces became "emotional" and started firing at Afghans in the area "because they feared another bomb attack." President Karzai "strongly condemned the incident" and has ordered an investigation, Reuters reports.
The AP also reports that at least one US soldier deleted video footage and photos taken by Afghan journalists covering the aftermath of the suicide bombing. A freelance photographer working for AP and an AP Television News cameraman, who arrived a half hour after the suicide bombing, were capturing images of three bodies inside a vehicle when they were approached by troops who accused them of not having permission to be there, then erased their work. Other local Afghan TV reporters at the bombing site were threatened by US troops and had their footage deleted as well, according to the AP.
Khanwali Kamran, a reporter for the Afghan channel Ariana Television, was in a small group of journalists working alongside [AP photographer Rahmat] Gul. Kamran said the American soldiers also deleted his footage.
"They warned me that if it is aired ... then, 'You will face problems,"' Kamran said.
Taqiullah Taqi, a reporter for Afghanistan's largest television station, Tolo TV, said Americans were using abusive language.
"According to the translator, they said, 'Delete them, or we will delete you,"' Taqi said.
Agence France-Presse reports that Major Mitchell defended the actions of the soldiers in deleting the footage, saying that the practice was allowed in "extreme circumstances."
The journalists had gone beyond a security perimetre and had been asked to remove their images to "protect the integrity of the investigation," he said, adding that the scene may have been altered before they arrived.
The concern had been that the "photographers would not accurately represent what the scene looked like immediately after the ambush," Mitchell said.
In a statement, press advocacy group Reporters Without Borders called for an investigation into "the acts of censorship by the US Army" and asked "if the US soldiers had nothing to hide why have they done everything to prevent the press from covering this blunder?"
Al Jazeera, however, reports that it has obtained footage showing "local people in shock, treating the wounded and pulling bodies from the debris left by the shooting." Al Jazeera also reports that witnesses said the suicide bomber acted alone in attacking the US troops, and that the troops simply panicked, firing at anything that moved after the bomb exploded. One witness told Al Jazeera: "There were no gunmen, this is a complete lie."