Irate demonstrators burned tires and blocked traffic in eastern Afghanistan on Thursday after U.S.-led forces killed an armed relative of an Afghan lawmaker during a night raid on her home, according to military and Afghan officials.
The confrontation was another setback for the American-led military coalition in Afghanistan, which has declared an aim of reducing civilian deaths and winning support from skeptical Afghans as it prepares for a prolonged summer offensive meant to hobble the Taliban.
U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the head of coalition forces in Afghanistan, has issued a series of orders meant to curtail civilian deaths, which alienate the public and provide fodder for insurgents.
McChrystal recently put new constraints on controversial night raids, requiring Afghan forces to play an integral role and to take the lead when homes are entered.
The American military said Afghan soldiers took part in Wednesday night's deadly search, but the Afghan family that was caught up in the raid questioned that contention.
"I didn't see any Afghan forces," said Shah Fasial Sidiqi, the younger brother of Afghan lawmaker Safiya Sidiqi and one of those whom U.S. forces held for several hours during the raid.
"I was afraid of Taliban, and now I can say the Americans are the enemy of the women of Afghanistan," she told McClatchy.
Sidiqi wasn't home when the raid began late Wednesday night at her village in Nangarhar province, east of Kabul.
However, her brother, Shah Fasial Sidiqi, a resident of Canada who'd returned to Afghanistan earlier this week to visit his family, was there when the Americans came looking for a Taliban leader.
He said that more than 80 U.S. soldiers took over the family compound before midnight. The Americans tied up 15 men, women and children and blindfolded the Sidiqi relatives, he said.
The grocery store worker from Toronto said he told the Americans that they were taking over the home of a lawmaker.
"They said, 'We know,' " he told McClatchy on Thursday.
During the search, Safiya Sidiqi said, one of her brothers-in-law emerged from a neighboring house with an old hunting rifle and was shot.
In a statement, U.S. forces said that the man was killed after he took aim at American and Afghan troops who were taking part in the raid. The news release said that intelligence had led them to search the homes for a "Taliban facilitator," though no arrests were made.
The controversy is the latest to hamper U.S. efforts to win increased support from Afghans.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has long been critical of night raids. Last month, McChrystal imposed tighter rules on the operations.
An Afghan man is "conditioned to respond aggressively in defense of his home and his guests whenever he perceives his home or honor is threatened," McChrystal said at the time.
"In a similar situation, most of us would do the same," he said. "This reaction is compounded when our forces invade his home at night, particularly when women are present. Instinctive responses to defend his home and family are sometimes interpreted as insurgent acts, with tragic results."
The directive was part of an ongoing effort by McChrystal that had some initial success in reducing civilian deaths.
Last year, civilian deaths due to American-led forces and the Afghan government fell by nearly 30 percent, according to a U.N. report this year. Civilian deaths rose 14 percent in 2009 and hit their highest levels of the decade. The U.S. and its allies were responsible for about a quarter of those 2,412 deaths, the U.N. report said.
Since then, the campaign to contain such deaths has had a series of setbacks.
There's been a dramatic spike in civilian deaths in the first three months of this year. According to military figures, the international coalition and its Afghan allies killed 87 civilians in Afghanistan over that period, a significant jump from the first quarter of 2009, when the coalition said it was responsible for the deaths of 29 Afghan civilians.
American officials said the jump was the result, in part, of accelerated military operations and a flood of new troops into Afghanistan.
Even so, a series of military missteps in recent months has undermined McChrystal's overriding message.
Earlier this month, the U.S. military apologized for a botched special forces raid in February that killed five civilians, including two pregnant women.
The military was forced to admit responsibility for the deaths after The Times of London questioned the official version of the attack, which suggested that Taliban fighters had killed the women.
On Thursday, U.S. military officials said they were looking into the latest controversy.
"We are taking Safiya Sidiqi's allegations seriously and thoroughly reviewing our actions and intelligence connecting the Taliban facilitator to that particular compound," said U.S. Army Col. Wayne Shanks, the chief of public affairs for the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
Shah Fasial Sidiqi criticized the Americans for the raid and said that even if his relative was armed, they shouldn't have killed him in the murky circumstances.
"This is a shame for America," he said. "They are worse than the Taliban."
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