Afghan protesters say dead 'insurgents' were civilians

Hundreds of people protest outside a key town in eastern Afghanistan over the deaths of two men branded insurgents and killed by coalition forces.

JALALABAD // Hundreds of people protested outside a key town in eastern Afghanistan today over the deaths of two men branded insurgents and killed by coalition forces but who local Afghans said were civilians. The protesters, mainly men, blocked a main highway out of the city of Jalalabad into neighbouring Pakistan for several hours, shouting anti-American slogans and carrying the bodies of the two dead men. Protesters said the men were father and son.

"The Americans who killed these people should come and see whether it is civilians or insurgents they killed. We need an explanation from them," said one protester named Mohammad Gul. The protesters said they did not want to bury the men until they had received an explanation. A statement from the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said Afghan and foreign forces had killed two Taliban insurgents in a compound in a district near Jalalabad yesterday.

It said the men had been involved in roadside bomb attacks, the most common and effective weapon used by insurgents against foreign forces in Afghanistan. ISAF said its force came under enemy fire from "multiple directions" as it approached the compound. "These weapons are getting more and more sophisticated and dangerous every day," the statement quoted the US Army Colonel Rafael Torres as saying, referring to roadside bombs.

"Removing the experts operating in Afghanistan helps secure the roads and create a safer environment for the Afghan populace," he said. A UN report last week showed civilian casualties had risen 31 per cent in the first half of 2010. Such incidents have long been a major cause of friction between President Hamid Karzai and his Western backers, although the number caused by foreign forces has fallen dramatically after tactical directives were tightened by US and NATO commanders.

The UN report said Taliban and other insurgents were responsible for 76 per cent of such casualties, with the number blamed on foreign troops falling to 12 per cent of the total from 30 per cent in the same period last year. Fighting a parallel war with the Taliban for public opinion, the commander of US and Nato forces in Afghanistan, Gen David Petraeus, has said lowering such casualties and protecting civilians from Taliban attacks and reprisals is his priority.

The insurgency has spread despite the presence of almost 150,000 foreign troops, mainly American, backed by about 300,000 Afghan soldiers and police. * Reuters