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Marines Kill 4 Afghan Soldiers
By 0aNajibullah Murshed and Paul Watson
The Los Angeles Times
Thursday 22 May 2003
Victims of erroneous shooting outside the U.S. Embassy were part of a disarmament team. Incident is a blow to the struggling government.
KABUL, Afghanistan U.S. Marines mistakenly shot and killed four 0aAfghan soldiers outside the American Embassy Wednesday, embarrassing President 0aHamid Karzai as he struggled to show political enemies that he is in charge.
The slain soldiers were part of a disarmament team unloading 0aweapons at a collection depot in an intelligence agency complex across from the 0aembassy about 10:30 a.m., Afghan police and military officials said.
"It was only a misunderstanding," Kabul Police Chief Abdul Basir 0asaid. "The Afghan soldiers have been shot by the Americans mistakenly."
U.S. embassies in the region are on heightened alert against 0aterrorist attacks, and there were unconfirmed reports that the Afghans may have 0afired on a passing car before the Marines guarding the embassy compound shot 0athem.
Lt. Gen. Norbert van Heyst, German commander of the 22-nation 0aInternational Security Assistance Force, said he heard the firing from the 0apeacekeepers base near the embassy. Van Heyst told reporters that he understood "there was a shooting between the Kabul garrison compound and the American 0aEmbassy. Somebody shot on to the Americans and the fire was responded." But the 0aAfghan Defense Ministry said the Marines' fire was unprovoked.
"No single shot from the Afghan soldiers from the start to the 0aend of the incident, and I tell you for sure no shooting from the side of our 0asoldiers," said ministry spokesman Mirjan, who uses only one name. "They've just 0abeen shot dead by the Americans."
Embassy officials blamed the deaths on "heightened tensions," 0aspokesman Alberto Fernandes said in a statement.
"An investigation is underway into the particulars of the 0aincident," the statement said. "Both sides will continue to meet and work to 0aensure security in the area. The U.S. Embassy regrets the loss of life in this 0aincident."
After the shooting, U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay 0aKhalilzad canceled a news conference that was scheduled at the embassy for 0aWednesday evening.
The four soldiers who were killed belonged to the Northern 0aAlliance force that played a crucial part in the 2001 U.S.-led war to oust the 0aTaliban regime and shut down Al Qaeda bases.
The Northern Alliance, which seized Kabul after the Taliban fled 0athe capital in December 2001, is dominated by ethnic minority Tajiks and Uzbeks, 0awho have had an uneasy relationship with Karzai, a Pushtun, from the start.
Karzai has worked hard to overcome differences with the Northern 0aAlliance as he tries to extend his power beyond the capital city.
Washington's refusal to deploy a peacekeeping force throughout 0aAfghanistan has made that effort more difficult, and Wednesday's shootings came 0aat an especially sensitive moment for the Afghan leader.
On Monday, Karzai told leading Muslim religious leaders in 0aAfghanistan's Supreme Court that he would resign if he was blocked from pursuing 0ahis mandate as president. He followed up the next day with a sharp warning to 0agovernors, several of whom rule outlying regions as warlords, that they would be 0afired if they didn't heed the central government's rules and regulations.
Amid Karzai's complaints that the governors had shown little 0acooperation since he took office, a resolution of his government's security 0acouncil accuses provincial officials of nepotism, misusing tax revenue and 0aallowing soldiers to meddle in civil matters.
From now on, all government officials especially governors 0amust channel tax revenue through official banks to the central government and 0acannot spend it without approval from Kabul, the resolution says.
While corrupt governors and their loyalists siphon off cash, 0aKarzai's administration is having so much trouble finding enough money that many 0acivil servants aren't getting paid on time.
The security council's 13-point document also insists that 0agovernors are responsible for implementing the central government's policies, 0amilitary commanders can't launch operations without Kabul's approval, and no 0amilitary or civilian official can enter into contracts abroad without 0aauthorization from Karzai's administration.
The Kabul government will send "special delegates" to the regions 0ato check for any violations of the resolution, it adds. The text also claims 0athat all governors have accepted the new restrictions.
"The resolution will be put in action in a matter of days, not 0amonths," said Karzai's chief of staff, Sayed Tayeb Jawad.