"My investigating officer believes those folks were innocent … We were unable to find evidence that those were fighters," Major General Frank H. Kearney, who ordered the investigation into the aftermath of the bombing of a US convoy in the eastern province of Nangarhar, was quoted as saying Sunday, April 15, by The Washington Post.
On March 4, 12 Afghan civilians were killed and 35 were injured, including children and elderly villagers, after US Marines opened fire indiscriminately following the bombing of one of their convoys on a busy highway between the eastern city of Jalalabad and the Pakistan border.
US Marines initially said they responded to small-arms fire from several directions to defend themselves.
But the preliminary US investigation refuted their claims, concluding that the unit did not come under fire after the bombing.
"We found . . . no brass that we can confirm that small-arms fire came at them," said Kearney, the head of Special Operations Command Central which oversees the US Operations in the region, including in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"We have testimony from Marines that is in conflict with unanimous testimony from civilians at the sites," he added.
Kearney also said the excessive response by the Marines is not justified as the suicide bombing "had not much effect on our convoy."
"Everyone takes this very, very seriously," he underlined.
Senior military officials told The New York Times that the Army is now exploring possible criminal charges against Marines.
An American spokesman in Afghanistan, Lt. Col. David A. Accetta, said further said the military was in the final stages of approving condolence payments for families of the wounded and dead in the shootings.
|"This is not an isolated case," Nadery said.|
The US findings are similar to another probe by the Afghan Human Rights Commission (AHRC).
"In failing to distinguish between civilians and legitimate military targets, the US Marine Corps Special Forces employed indiscriminate force," said the report, which was cited by The Ney York Times on Sunday.
"Their actions thus constitute a serious violation of international humanitarian standards."
Citing testimonies from families of victims, survivors, police and hospital officials, the seven-page report concluded that marines fired indiscriminately at pedestrians, people in cars and public buses along a 10-mile stretch of road.
The dead included a one-year-old boy, a 4-year-old girl, three women and elderly villagers.
AHRC Deputy Director Nader Nadery said the shootings are not unprecedented.
"This is not an isolated case" he told the Times.
The civilian toll in the incident is one of the largest for which the US troops have been accused since the invasion of Afghanistan.
Last may, up to 76 people, many believed to be civilians, were killed in American strikes on a village in southern Afghanistan.
More than half the US forces fall under NATO command. The rest, including all Special Operations forces, remain under US command.
Anger and frustration over the shooting was evident in the whole province of Nangarhar.
"What we identified throughout all our investigation is a high level of frustration among the public and among the civilians," Nadery said.
Recalling the bloody incident, survivors and families of the dead lashed out at what they termed "US cruelty."
"It was an illegal action," a 45-year-old car driver, who survived the bloodshed, told the Times.
He recalled how the US guns shredded his car with hundreds of bullets and claimed the lives of his 80-year-old father, 75-year old uncle and his teenage nephew.
"I know the army rules, and when I heard the blast I stopped my car, I was thinking in case they shoot me," he said. "They opened fire and were shooting for 10 minutes."
Some of the families said they could not recognize their relatives because they were shot beyond recognition.
Sixteen-year-old Yadwaro was carrying a bundle of grass to her family's farmhouse when she was cut down by the rampant American fire.
"She was cutting grass in the field and she was carrying the bundle of grass on her head back into the house for the animals," Abdel Muhammad, her brother-in-law said.
Yadwaro's father-in-law said the girl was shot in the back and fell dead across the threshold.
"They committed a great cruelty; they should be punished," he said bitterly.Last Mod: 17 Nisan 2007, 16:10