Anti-US rallies follow deadly raid in Afghanistan
Civilians killed in attack on militants
KABUL, Afghanistan -- A US-led raid yesterday on a suspected militant cell killed as many as six Afghans, including a woman and a teenage girl, and spawned protests by hundreds of angry Afghans chanting "Death to Bush!"
The United States said four militants were among the dead, but it was the civilian deaths that infuriated the protesters, who carried five bodies to a main highway and blocked traffic with felled trees during the demonstration. The bodies of the women were entirely covered by sheets, while the men's faces were revealed.
"Their operation was based on incorrect reports, and they carried out a cruel attack on these houses," resident Akhtar Mohammad said at the protest. "We are not the enemy, we are not Al Qaeda. Why are they attacking us?"
Afghan officials have repeatedly pleaded with the United States and NATO to be careful during operations that might harm civilians, and the latest violence is sure to deepen distrust among Afghans, whose support for international forces and the US-backed government is waning.
"It is extremely unfortunate that militants put others' lives in danger by hiding among their families," said US Army Major Chris Belcher, a coalition spokesman.
The protest was held on the same highway where a US Marines convoy, fleeing after being hit by a suicide car bomb on March 4, fired on vehicles and pedestrians, killing 12 people.
Abdul Mohammad, a Nangarhar police investigator, said the operation early yesterday in the Bati Kot district left five civilians dead, including two women. The differing figures could not immediately be reconciled, and it could not be verified whether the dead men were militants or not.
The protesters focused their anger on President Bush and his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai, as well as the governor of Nangarhar.
Acting on a tip indicating that the cell was planning three suicide car bomb attacks against coalition forces in the coming weeks, coalition and Afghan forces jointly raided the compound, the coalition statement said.
The coalition said that after being fired upon, the coalition forces returned fire, killing four militants, an adult woman and a teenage girl. Another child and teenage girl were also wounded during the gunfight and are being treated at a coalition facility.
Coalition forces found several guns and bomb-making materials, and detained one man from the compound for questioning.
The coalition said it arrested four other suspects and discovered more bomb-making materials elsewhere in the area yesterday.
Mohammad, the Nangarhar director of police criminal investigations, said the operation targeted three houses and that six people were arrested.
In the March 4 shootings, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission said the Marines, after being hit by an explosives-rigged minivan, violated international humanitarian law by using excessive force when they opened fire at civilians along a 10-mile stretch of road, leaving 12 people dead.
A US military commander has also determined that the Marines used excessive force and referred the case for possible criminal inquiry.