- The Washington Times - Monday, May 29, 2006

KABUL, Afghanistan — Violent anti-foreigner protests raged across the capital yesterday after a U.S. military truck crashed into traffic, touching off the worst rioting since the Taliban’s ouster in 2001. At least eight persons died and 107 were injured before Kabul’s streets calmed.

Chanting “Death to America,” rioters stoned the U.S. convoy involved in the accident, then headed to the center of town, ransacking offices of international aid groups and searching for foreigners in a display of rising resentment over civilian deaths in the war against insurgents.

Gunfire, at times intense, rang out across Kabul as hundreds of young men looted shops and set fire to police cars and station houses. Some people said U.S. and Afghan troops fired on the crowds.

The U.S.-backed Afghan government decreed a nighttime curfew, and the city quieted before sunset. Yousuf Stanizai, an Interior Ministry spokesman, warned that anyone found outside between 10 p.m and 4 a.m. would suffer “serious measures.”

President Hamid Karzai went on television yesterday to decry the outbursts, branding the rioters as troublemakers who should be resisted and linking their violence to the long years of conflict that wrecked Afghanistan.

“We will recognize as the enemy of Afghanistan these people who do these things,” Mr. Karzai said. “You should stand up against these agitators and not let them to destroy our country again.”

Patience with the 23,000 U.S. soldiers and other foreign troops in Afghanistan is fraying amid recent civilian deaths, including at least 16 persons killed by an air strike targeting Taliban fighters in a village last week.

The civilian deaths have come during some of the fiercest fighting since a U.S.-led coalition drove the Taliban religious militia from power at the end of 2001, after the regime refused to hand over terror leader Osama bin Laden and close al Qaeda camps after the September 11 attacks.

Much of the bloodshed is in the south, where officials reported a battle yesterday killed six militants and wounded five Canadian soldiers. Elsewhere, warplanes of the U.S.-led coalition bombed a suspected Taliban meeting late Sunday and dozens of militants were reported killed, Afghan authorities said.

Although most Afghans support the presence of foreign troops to stabilize a country devastated by a quarter century of war and civil conflict, many also harbor resentment at the outsiders.

Those feelings have surfaced with increasing regularity in the past year, during violent protests over accusations that the Koran was desecrated at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the publication in European newspapers of cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad.

“We don’t want Americans in our country. They don’t care about poor people. They killed innocent people today, and this is not the first time,” said Abdul Shakoor, a 28-year-old who joined in the protests after yesterday’s traffic accident. “They do it all the time, and in the end, they say it was a mistake. It’s not acceptable to us anymore.”

The U.S. military expressed regret for the crash, which it said occurred when a mechanical malfunction sent a large cargo truck careening into about a dozen vehicles at an intersection. The military was investigating the incident.

The U.S.-led coalition said at least one person was killed and six injured in the crash, while Afghan authorities gave higher but differing tolls. A statement from Mr. Karzai’s office said five died in the accident. Police said three were killed and 16 were injured.

“This was a tragic incident, and we deeply regret any deaths or injuries resulting from this incident,” a U.S. military spokesman, Col. Thomas Collins, said.

Kabul Police Chief Sher Shah Usafi said another person was killed when U.S. troops fired into a crowd of stone-throwing protesters soon after the crash. U.S. military officials said they couldn’t confirm that.

Abdullah Fahim, a Health Ministry spokesman, said eight bodies were delivered to hospitals in Kabul and 107 Afghans were treated for injuries. He had no details on how the casualties occurred, and it wasn’t clear whether the toll included people from the traffic accident.

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