Deadly U.S. Raid Sparks Furor Among Afghan Civilians

Villagers shout anti-U.S. slogans following the American special forces raid in Wardak, Afghanistan. i i

hide captionVillagers shout anti-U.S. slogans after a U.S.-led raid in Wardak, Afghanistan, that killed three civilians two weeks ago. A crowd of about 300 villagers yelled "Death to the United States" and blocked a main road in eastern Afghanistan.

Rahmatullah Naikzad/AP
Villagers shout anti-U.S. slogans following the American special forces raid in Wardak, Afghanistan.

Villagers shout anti-U.S. slogans after a U.S.-led raid in Wardak, Afghanistan, that killed three civilians two weeks ago. A crowd of about 300 villagers yelled "Death to the United States" and blocked a main road in eastern Afghanistan.

Rahmatullah Naikzad/AP

U.S. special forces, along with Afghan interpreters, raided an Afghan home two weeks ago and announced they had killed three suspected militants.

The next morning, hundreds of people blocked the highway nearby, protesting that the young men were college students home for the holy month of Ramadan.

The United Nations has reported that it is the Taliban — not the Americans and their NATO allies — who cause three-quarters of the civilian casualties in Afghanistan. But that concept does not seem to have reached Afghan civilians.

The Raid

Taliban influence in the province of Wardak, southwest of Kabul, has surged in recent years.

On the night of Aug. 11, American special forces along with Afghan soldiers believed they had tracked a Taliban leader to one of three adjacent farmhouse compounds.

Villagers stand around the bodies of three brothers who were killed by American Special Forces. i i

hide captionVillagers stand around the bodies of three brothers who were killed by American forces during the raid. The U.S. says they called for the men to come out peacefully and only fired when they saw an AK-47 rifle. The family gives a starkly different account of what happened.

Rahmatullah Naikzad/AP
Villagers stand around the bodies of three brothers who were killed by American Special Forces.

Villagers stand around the bodies of three brothers who were killed by American forces during the raid. The U.S. says they called for the men to come out peacefully and only fired when they saw an AK-47 rifle. The family gives a starkly different account of what happened.

Rahmatullah Naikzad/AP

Col. John Dorrian, a NATO spokesman, said the soldiers used standard procedure.

"That means an Afghan interpreter uses a bullhorn to tell the occupants in the compound to come out with their hands raised," he says. "Two men, four women and seven children complied with the call-out."

Dorrian says the civilians told the U.S. soldiers that no one remained inside the compound. They began clearing room by room.

"When they reached this room, there were three men inside, one with an AK-47 rifle. That individual began raising the rifle, and the assault force engaged him and shot him dead," he says. "The other two men, rather than complying with a second call-out, they moved toward the weapon and were also engaged."

In a matter of only seconds, three young men lay dead. They were Ismail Aman, 25, and two of his younger brothers.

'Why Are They Killing Our Innocent People?'

The family gives a starkly different account of what happened. A surviving brother, Muhammad Aman, was asleep when the raid unfolded.

"It was about 2 a.m. in the morning that Americans came, brutally entered the house, fired and killed my three brothers, who were students," he says through an interpreter.

Muhammad Aman (right) and his uncle Safiullah at a memorial service for three of Aman's brothers i i

hide captionMuhammad Aman (right) and his uncle Safiullah attend a memorial service for three of Aman's brothers who were shot dead in the raid. Aman says he and his father were strip-searched and handcuffed in the yard before he realized that his brothers were dead.

Quil Lawrence/NPR
Muhammad Aman (right) and his uncle Safiullah at a memorial service for three of Aman's brothers

Muhammad Aman (right) and his uncle Safiullah attend a memorial service for three of Aman's brothers who were shot dead in the raid. Aman says he and his father were strip-searched and handcuffed in the yard before he realized that his brothers were dead.

Quil Lawrence/NPR

Aman says he and his father were strip-searched and handcuffed in the yard before he realized that his brothers were dead.

"I don't know why the Americans killed them. I don't know if they make a mistake?" he says. "Because at least they could ask them, because two of them were English teachers, they speak English. They could ask them: 'Who are you guys?' "

Aman spoke at a small memorial service at the Kabul vocational school where Ismail was studying business administration. He says his brothers were home from school and up late studying.

The presence of a gun in the house is common in Afghanistan. Aman says the next day, talk of vengeance against the Americans spread through the village.

The mood on campus is the same. Students vented their rage as they showed a visitor Ismail's dorm room full of notebooks and texts in English.

A student named Karim lives down the hall.

"I want to ask one question from American — why they are killing our innocent people," he says. "They are killing student and saying they are Taliban, [that] they are al-Qaida and they are belonging with the terrorists."

Creating Taliban Sympathizers

American commanders say they have gone to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties and, in turn, generate popular appeal for the Taliban. To that end, airstrikes have been severely limited in favor of troops on the ground that can get a closer look at their targets.

According to the United Nations and Afghan monitors, 76 percent of civilian casualties this year were caused by insurgents. U.S. and allied forces were blamed for 12 percent of them. But that information hasn't reached the students, like Hamza, another classmate.

"You are the father of Ismail, and there are your three sons," he says. "You 100 percent will become a Talib, and you make a suicide attack on him."

The angry students say the Americans have overstayed their welcome. It doesn't seem to matter that Afghan authorities also sign off on these night raids. The students say Afghan President Hamid Karzai is an American puppet.

In their minds, the Taliban carry none of the blame. And that's a problem, says Dorrian, the NATO spokesman.

"When we fail to make progress, we're easy to hold accountable," he says. "The Taliban, on the other side, over the years have become very good at assigning blame to others for casualties that they cause."

Dorrian says that on the same night Aman's brothers died, special forces arrested four men in the neighboring compounds, but it's not clear they got the Taliban commander they were after.

There is no evidence to suggest the young men killed in this case were Taliban. But Dorrian insists that when a weapon is drawn on NATO or Afghan soldiers, they are correct to defend themselves.

He adds that in 80 percent of these night raids, the call-out works and no shots are fired. But none of that is convincing to the family in Wardak and many other Afghans.

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