25 killed in Afghanistan protest, car bombing
Furious anti-American protesters poured into the streets of a city in northern Afghanistan on Wednesday, shouting out objections to an overnight U.S.-led military raid that killed four people, including two women. Subsequent clashes with security forces trying to quell the demonstration killed 12 people, provincial officials said.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai issued a strongly worded statement condemning the raid on the outskirts of Taloqan, the capital of Takhar province, and dismissing NATO’s contention that the four people killed in it were armed insurgents.
Elsewhere in the country, a suicide bomber rammed an explosives-laden car into a bus full of police recruits near the city of Jalalabad, killing at least 13 people and injuring 20 others. The dead and injured were a mix of civilians and the recruits, the Nangarhar province governor’s office said.
The Taloqan raid and its explosive aftermath pointed up the striking degree of discord between the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and ordinary Afghans over nighttime operations aimed at capturing or killing insurgent figures.
Many people here are skeptical of Western military claims that the targets are carefully vetted, and believe in any case that such home invasions carry too great a risk of harming or killing innocent people in the confusion of nighttime.
They particularly fear that U.S. forces, flush with success over the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan this month, will increasingly rely on the tactic of swooping down in darkness on residential compounds.
This marked the third instance this month of a nighttime raid that NATO was forced either to apologize for or to pledge to investigate. A spokesman for the coalition said the circumstances of the strike in Taloqan were being examined, but the Western military stood by its assertion that those killed were combatants.
Within hours of the overnight raid, as many as 1,500 protesters poured into the streets, clashing with Afghan police and trying to overrun a NATO outpost manned by German troops. About 50 people were hurt in the unrest, provincial officials said.
It was not immediately clear whether the protests were spontaneous or orchestrated. Although such demonstrations are often instigated by anti-American religious or community leaders, they do tap into a deep and genuine resentment of the presence of foreign forces.
In what has become a common pattern in such incidents, local officials claimed they were unaware of the planned raid, while NATO said the governor’s office was told ahead of time of the coalition’s intentions.
“NATO’s reasons for conducting this operation were not persuasive for me,” said Abdul Jabar Taqwa, the Takhar governor. He added that “we have not been informed about the operation” beforehand.
NATO said in a statement that the two women killed had brandished weapons, a statement that many protesters said they flatly disbelieved.
Although women are occasionally recruited as suicide bombers because of their ability to approach sensitive military and government buildings clad in all-covering burkas, there are very few documented instances of adult females — normally kept secluded in conservative tribal areas — fighting alongside male insurgents.
Western military officials said the intended target of the raid was a figure in the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, an insurgent group that has been making increasing inroads in the once-quiet north.
Karzai’s statement included “heartfelt condolences” to the families of those killed and demanded “clarification” from NATO’s International Security Assistance Force. The president also noted that in the past he had called repeatedly on NATO to refrain from nighttime strikes, and insisted that any raids on residential compounds should involve only Afghan forces.
Even so, many of the protesters vented anger at their president as well as the Western military, shouting anti-Karzai slogans along with anti-American ones.
The clash comes amid a surge in violence that usually accompanies the advent of warmer weather and the start of the “fighting season.” NATO said a service member died Wednesday as a result of an insurgent attack in southern Afghanistan but gave no further details, including nationality. Two days earlier, four Americans were killed by a roadside bomb in the south.
Special correspondent Aimal Yaqubi contributed to this report.
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