Afghan lawmakers urge prosecuting U.S. troops

May 31, 2006|By PAUL WATSON | PAUL WATSON,LOS ANGELES TIMES

KABUL, Afghanistan -- A special session of Afghanistan's parliament called yesterday for the prosecution of U.S. troops involved in a fatal hit-and-run accident that sparked hours of intense rioting here.

"Those who are responsible for Monday's incident must be investigated and prosecuted," said a statement from the speaker of the lower house, Younis Qanooni, which was read over state-run television last night.

Members of the upper and lower houses of the Afghan parliament, chosen in landmark elections last fall, met all day to discuss events that sent waves of panic across the capital.

The explosion of rage triggered by a road accident bared a growing resentment among many Afghans that U.S. forces have run roughshod over the civilian population and that reconstruction efforts have failed to address the needs of the average Afghan.

President Hamid Karzai and others have issued repeated calls for U.S. troops to moderate their tactics against Taliban militants, saying that airstrikes that have killed and injured civilians undermine his efforts at reconciliation after years of civil war.

Monday's rioting was so intense that several embassies went into crisis mode. Staff at the U.S. Embassy compound spent 90 minutes in bunkers while other embassies sent vehicles with armed escorts to bring foreign citizens to gathering points in case they had to be airlifted to safety.

But Afghan National Army troops had restored order by sunset Monday, and the capital was quiet yesterday. U.S. and other foreign troops stayed off Kabul's streets to help defuse tensions.

The U.S. military reported at least one person was killed in the accident; Karzai's office put the number of fatalities at five. After thousands of people rampaged through the capital for several hours, the death toll rose to at least 11.

The military is investigating the accident, but initially said it appeared a mechanical failure caused a large cargo truck to crash into as many as 12 civilian vehicles, including a taxi, about 8 a.m. Monday.

U.S. military convoys and civilian contractors routinely move at high speed, drive aggressively through traffic and use the middle of the road, in an effort to avoid roadside bombs or suicide attackers. But to many Afghans, such tactics come across as foreign arrogance.

Witnesses said U.S. troops fired into a crowd of Afghans who were trying to stop the convoy as it left the scene of the accident.

Paul Watson writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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