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Locals say U.S. troops shot protesters

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Residents of Garmsir in Helmand province are accusing American troops of killing anti-U.S. demonstrators at a protest attended by several thousand. The Americans claim their forces were nearby, but not on scene, as security forces forces clashed with rowdy demonstrators, killing eight civilians and three members of the security forces.

While U.S. military officials have denied the charges, the size of the protest alone is of particular note. Whether the thousands of protesters who came were organized by non-insurgents or whether the Taliban organized them or even coerced them to attend, it is still a significant number of demonstrators.

Deadly Protest in Afghanistan Highlights Tensions
By Dexter Filkins - New York Times

KABUL, Jan 12 - At least eight Afghan civilians were killed and a dozen wounded Tuesday during a street protest in a volatile town along the Helmand River, after a raid on an Afghan home Sunday by American and Afghan forces. The raid was seized on by Taliban provocateurs who organized the protesters and pushed them toward violence, local officials said...

Local officials said the protest, which involved several thousand local Afghans, was organized by the Taliban’s “shadow” governor for Garmsir, Mullah Mohammed Naim...

No eyewitnesses to the disputed raid could be located; it took place Sunday night in the nearby village of Darwashan. American officers in Kabul denied that their soldiers had abused any Afghan women or desecrated a Koran...

The protesters in Garmsir began shouting, “Death to America” and “Death to [local police chief] Kamal Khan,” and overturned several cars. They set a school on fire. Then they stormed the local office of the National Security Directorate, the Afghan domestic intelligence service.

The security directorate is sometimes blamed for providing faulty intelligence to the Americans, who then detain the wrong people. As the crowd moved in, agents opened fire, Mr. Khan said.

In addition to the eight protesters killed and 13 wounded, an Afghan intelligence agent and two police were killed.

As the chaos unfolded, American officials said, a Taliban sniper began firing into the nearby American base, known as Forward Operating Base Delhi, a few hundred yards away. American officers said they killed the sniper, but no one else. In a statement, the Americans denied that they had fired on any protesters...

“The American are blaspheming the holy Koran and violating and disrespecting our culture,” said Jan Gul, a farmer whose son was killed in the protest. “We cannot tolerate such behavior. We will defend our religion.”

Indeed, some Afghans maintained that the American forces were present with the Afghan agents and fired on the crowd... (link)

Reuters reporter Abdul Malek, reporting from Helmand, adds support to the accusations that American troops did in fact take part:

Haji Jan Gul, who described himself as one of the demonstrators, said that his son had been killed in the melee. The foreign forces opened fire when protesters threw stones at them, he said.

"The foreigners shot many people in the streets, some 10 people died and others were wounded," he said... (link)

Also the Financial Times:

Ahmad Khan, a farmer who told the Financial Times by telephone that he was wounded in the demonstration, accused local and foreign forces of opening fire. “We wanted to condemn those foreigners who set fire to the Holy Koran and killed civilians,” he said. “The foreigners and the Afghans fired at us.” (link)

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