- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 23, 2002

KABUL, Afghanistan A friendly basketball game between U.S. and Afghan teams turned violent when spectators kicked a fallen American player in the head, and a guard rushing to protect him unintentionally shot and wounded two Afghans.
The incident at Kabul's main stadium on Thursday wasn't the first time an event staged to foster goodwill with Afghans has gotten out of control. An Afghan sports official suggested that the games be put off until the security situation in the capital improves.
The U.S. squad, which included one British player, pulled out of the four-day basketball tournament with Afghan teams after the violence.
The game was friendly until an American player running for the ball tumbled near the stands crowded with Afghans celebrating the Persian New Year, said Flight Lt. Tony Marshall, a spokesman for the 4,500-strong international peacekeeping force in Kabul.
Two Afghan spectators kicked him in the head, according to Lt. Marshall and witnesses, prompting an Afghan guard from the U.S. Embassy to come to his defense.
Trying to keep the crowd back, the guard cocked his Kalashnikov rifle, and unintentionally fired off a round, Lt. Marshall said.
Two spectators suffered gunshot wounds to their legs, said Wahid Ullah, the stadium's maintenance chief who witnessed the violence.
U.S. personnel surrounded the Afghan guard and hustled him out of the stadium for safety, Lt. Marshall said. The guard has been turned over to Afghan police.
The game then ended and the spectators who kicked the American disappeared into the crowd, witnesses said.
One of the wounded, Habibul Rahman, attributed the incident to fans becoming overexcited.
"It was not about people not liking Americans," he said from his hospital bed, his fractured leg elevated in a cast.
Nevertheless, Mr. Rahman, 19, said he wasn't sure he would go back to see another such match.
Since the arrival of international peacekeepers in the Afghan capital, sporting events and community visits have become important goodwill gestures toward civilians.
But while Afghans appreciate the exchanges, a sporting official, Abdul Zabur Azizi, said security wasn't sufficient to guarantee the safety of spectators and players.
The game on Thursday was played on the second day of a four-day tournament in Kabul.
Calls seeking comment from the U.S. Embassy were not returned yesterday.
Last month, a melee erupted at the stadium when peacekeepers and Afghans were playing a goodwill soccer match. Afghan police fired shots in the air to disperse the crowd that was pushing to get in.


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