Four Afghan civilians were killed and 18 others wounded Monday when US troops opened fire on a passenger bus they believed was a threat to a military personnel working to remove roadside bombs from a highway near Kandahar.
In a statement, the NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), said it “deeply regrets the tragic loss of life.”
According to a report in the New York Times:
The deaths triggered a vitriolic anti-American demonstration, infuriated officials and appeared likely to harm public opinion on the eve of the most important offensive of the war, in which tens of thousands of American and NATO troops will try to take control of the Kandahar region, the spiritual home of the Taliban, this summer.
Hundreds of demonstrators poured into the area around a station where the damaged bus was taken on the western outskirts of Kandahar. They blocked the road with burning tires for an hour and shouted, “Death to America” and “Death to infidels” while also condemning the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, according to people in the area.
The Kandahar governor, Tooryalai Wesa, called for the commander of the military convoy who opened fire to be prosecuted under military law.
The ISAF Joint Command in Afghanistan said the incident unfolded early in the morning when “an unknown, large vehicle approached a slow-moving ISAF route-clearance patrol from the rear at a high rate of speed. The convoy could not move to the side of the road to allow the vehicle to pass due to the steep embankment.”
“The ISAF patrol warned off the approaching vehicle once with a flashlight and three times with flares, which were not heeded,” the ISAF statement said. “Perceiving a threat when the vehicle approached once more at an increased rate of speed, the patrol attempted to warn off the vehicle with hand signals prior to firing upon it. Once engaged, the vehicle then stopped. Upon inspection, ISAF forces discovered the vehicle to be a passenger bus.”
The Washington Post reported high-profile civilian deaths "continue to attract wide attention in Afghanistan."
"A Feb. 12 nighttime raid by US Special Operations forces near Gardez, in the southeast, that killed five people, including two pregnant women, is being investigated after Afghan officials alleged that US troops tampered with evidence at the scene," the Post report said.
Eleven days later, a NATO airstrike killed 27 civilians and wounded 14, including women and children.
In addition, the increased use of CIA-operated Predator drones over the past year to target Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders has caused the deaths of hundreds of innocent civilians.
Hadi Jawad, co-chair of the "Save Pakistan" Committee, Dallas Peace Center, said the use of drones may have killed "some" members of the Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders "concurrent civilian casualties are undermining overall US objectives in the region."
Jawad cited a recent report by the New American Foundation, which said "US drone strikes don't seem to have had any great effect on the Taliban's ability to mount operations in Pakistan or Afghanistan" and may violate the "principle of proportionality under international law."
"Drone strikes have killed hundreds of civilians, have failed to reduce violence, serve as a recruiting tool for the Taliban and may well violate international law," he said.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top US commander in Afghanistan, recently announced that reducing civilian casualties is now one of his main objectives.
He said he hopes to accomplish that by, among other things, restricting nighttime raids.