Afghan protest on civilian deaths turns violent,1 dead

SURKHROD, Afghanistan (Reuters) – A civilian was shot dead in eastern Afghanistan on Friday after police fired at thousands of villagers protesting against NATO raids which they said killed 11 civilians overnight, a local official said.

A Reuters reporter in Surkhrod district in Nangarhar province, where villagers said the raids took place, said Afghan police fired at the crowd after some of them started throwing stones at local government buildings.

Haji Jamal, head of the local provincial council, told Reuters one of the protesters had been shot dead.

Earlier, the crowd dragged out the bodies of dead civilians they said had been killed in the raids, demanding an explanation from NATO over the deaths.

Ali Khan, who lives next door to the homes which were raided said he heard helicopters landed at about 1 a.m. (2030 GMT).

“And then the gunshots started. We were terrified and we couldn’t come outside,” he told Reuters.

“Dozens of Afghan and foreign troops raided three homes and we found out in the morning that nine people were killed and two others are missing,” Khan said.

In a statement NATO-led forces confirmed an overnight operation had taken place in the Surkhrod district but denied any civilians were killed and said they killed only insurgents, including a Taliban sub-commander.

“The combined force went to a compound outside the village of Qal’eh-ye Allah Nazar, in the Surkhrod district, after intelligence information verified insurgent activity,” the statement said.

“Reports indicate no civilians were harmed during the operation,” the statement added, but did not give an exact number of people killed in the raid.

Civilian casualties in the nine-year war have eroded support for foreign coalition forces trying to crush the Taliban insurgency.

Last year was the deadliest for Afghan civilians since the war started in 2001, according to the United Nations.

Afghan officials say about 170 Afghan civilians were killed between the months of March and April this year alone, an increase of 33 percent compared to the same period last year.

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Small-scale operations are carried out at night mainly by U.S. forces, usually on Afghan homes where they suspect insurgents may be living or hiding.

They are a major cause of tension between foreign troops and Afghans, stoking resentment among civilians and undermining the coalition’s goal of winning over the support of the population.

“We will burn the whole district, we don’t want Americans, we don’t want the government … If you are here to kill us, then kill us now,” Hafiz Gul, one of the demonstrators, said.

(Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi; Editing by Golnar Motevalli and Sanjeev Miglani)