US troops in Afghan rampage
The Australian – April 16, 2007
A platoon of US marine special forces went on a shooting rampage in Afghanistan last month, killing 12 civilians - including a four-year-old girl and a one-year-old boy - and wounding at least 33 others, according to a US military inquiry and a report by the Afghan human rights commission.
A convoy of marines in six Humvees responded to a suicide bomber's roadside ambush in Nangarhar province by shooting at passers-by on a 16km stretch of road near Jalalabad.
Citing a US commander who ordered an investigation into the killings, The Washington Post said there was no evidence the marine special operations platoon came under small-arms fire after the bombing, although the marines reported taking enemy fire and seeing people with weapons. The troops continued shooting at perceived threats as they travelled along the road from the site of the March4 attack, said Major General Frank Kearney, head of US Special Operations Command Central, the report found.
The marines hit several vehicles, killing at least 10 people and wounding 33, among them children and elderly villagers.
"We found ... no (evidence) we can confirm that small-arms fire came at them," General Kearney is quoted by the paper as saying. "We have testimony from marines that is in conflict with unanimous testimony from civilians at the sites."
According to a BBC report, US military spokesman Major William Mitchell said in Afghanistan immediately after the March 4 attack: "We certainly believe it's possible that the incoming fire from the ambush was wholly or partly responsible for the civilian casualties."
But at the weekend, General Kearney said of the casualties: "My investigating officer believes those folks were innocent ... we were unable to find evidence those were fighters."
On General Kearney's orders, the US Naval Criminal Investigative Service is conducting an investigation that could lead to courts-martial of those involved, the Post said.
The results of the preliminary US investigation are similar to the findings of an official Afghan human-rights inquiry and contradict initial reports that the civilians might have been killed in a small-arms attack that followed the suicide bombing.
The Afghan report, which is based on dozens of witness accounts, is a fresh blow to the reputation of US forces overseas, portraying the marines as trigger-happy and vindictive. The day after the killings, hundreds of Afghans joined angry anti-US demonstrations.
Akhtyar Gul, a local reporter who witnessed the shooting, said he had seen the US troops spraying bullets in every direction as they drove.
"There was nobody on the road to fire at the Americans," he said.
Another witness told investigators his car had been stopped about 15m from the convoy.
"They opened fire on my car and shot more than 240 bullets," he said. "I jumped out of the car and was injured, but my father, my friend and my nephew were killed in the car."
According to another witness, a woman was gunned down by the troops in front of her house.
The Afghan report, which US officials call "troubling", found other US troops cleaned up evidence of the shootings.
Shortly after the killings, the marine platoon was withdrawn from the area.
The chairman of the US congressional subcommittee that oversees special forces, Adam Smith, said the accounts of the rampage contained "more than sufficient evidence of wrongdoing" by the troops.
The toll of civilian deaths and injuries is one of the largest of which coalition troops have been accused since the war in Afghanistan began in 2001.
Last updated 17/04/2007