STEVE INSKEEP, host:
All this comes in the same week that American conduct was blamed for a riot in Afghanistan. On Monday, a U.S. military truck crashed into Afghan vehicles in Kabul. Several people were killed in the crash and in the violence that followed.
This week we called Ronald Neumann, who's been tracking the aftermath in Kabul. He is the United States Ambassador to Afghanistan, a job that his father held decades before him.
Ambassador RONALD NEUMANN (U.S. Ambassador, Afghanistan): Recognizing that the definitive statements on that, I think, have to be military ones. But it seems quite clear that you had a convoy - I think it was seven vehicles - which was coming into the outskirts of Kabul. And of the one of the heavy equipment trucks - this was a large truck; I mean, if you stand next to the wheel it comes up to your chest - suddenly had a total break failure on a downhill slope. And the driver had no place to go and was totally unable to stop the vehicle, and it ran into a bunch of other cars. And when a vehicle that big is coming downhill, you got quite a mass. This isn't just a Humvee or something. And that smashed into some other vehicles, a crowd generated, and it went downhill from there.
INSKEEP: Is there physical evidence to support that break failure?
Ambassador NEUMANN: Yes.
INSKEEP: And then what happened?
Ambassador NEUMANN: There are a lot of different questions the Afghans are sorting out. Basically, you've got a number of mobs running around in town. There was some anti-American element. But actually, from my own observations, it was less focused anti-American than I think is being portrayed. It was more diffuse than that. Looking - the cameras looking down the street from where we were, there was sort of 100, 200 people mob. It sort of came and went, ebbed and flowed.
INSKEEP: You're talking about the equivalent of security cameras that you can see looking outside your embassy there?
Ambassador NEUMANN: Yeah. Yeah.
Ambassador NEUMANN: I mean, that's a limited viewpoint, obviously.
INSKEEP: And your feeling is the U.S. Embassy was not necessarily the main target.
Ambassador NEUMANN: No. I mean, they would have marched to us if they could have. But - and, I mean, I sat on my embassy in Bahrain for four hours watching a mob try to attack a police line; and there was nothing like that here. They were told they couldn't come in there, and they moved on. Other parts of town, you know, there were shops burned. There were houses that were foreigners. There were shops that were Afghan. They burned post boxes on the street, kind of a typical grab-and-go kind of mob violence.
INSKEEP: Ambassador, as you know, Afghan lawmakers have been calling for prosecution of the driver of the truck, at a minimum. Are American soldiers in Afghanistan subject to Afghan law?
Ambassador NEUMANN: No, they are not. But should the investigation reveal some wrongdoing, I'm sure that the military would follow up on its own.
INSKEEP: They're not subject because the U.S. military has an agreement with the Afghan government?
Ambassador NEUMANN: No. There's no agreement - but I don't want to try to term lawyer without being absolutely sure of my grounds. But you really can't fight a war that way.
INSKEEP: Are the soldiers involved still in Afghanistan?
Ambassador NEUMANN: As far as I know.
INSKEEP: As far as you know, they are.
Ambassador NEUMANN: Yeah.
INSKEEP: What does it say that, even though the United States can claim a great record of achievement in Afghanistan, that you still have a situation where, on multiple occasions, you'll have an incident or a news report of some kind and that is sufficient to spark a riot?
Ambassador NEUMANN: Well, I mean, first of all, there have not been all that many riots. I mean, I think that sounds overstated. You have some situations that spark trouble. You have some that don't. We had an air strike about a week-and-a-half ago, and there were initially some protests. President Karzai was down there. The overwhelming answer of tribal leaders in Kandahar was, you killed people that needed to be killed; and we're sorry about the civilians, but it was a good thing. If you have to do it again, do it again.
So, you know, people are touchy when they feel their honor or their family are imperiled, and that's something that we try to be careful about. And I think we're getting better about it. But what I do not see is one incident leading into another. Given the history of Afghanistan, given the xenophobia of the past, I do see individual incidents. And I do see people with long memories saying, you know, observe our customs. But I do not see any groundswell of anti-Americanism or of any desire that we leave.
INSKEEP: Ronald Neumann is the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan. He's in Kabul. Ambassador, thanks very much.
Ambassador NEUMANN: Sure.
INSKEEP: Ambassador Neumann previously served in Iraq, and he compares the Iraqi and Afghan insurgents at npr.org.
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