KABUL — Scores of Afghans launched an anti-American protest in Afghanistan on Tuesday over the killings of three children during a gun battle between U.S.-led forces and Taliban insurgents.
The children were killed after the Taliban attacked a group of U.S. forces and Afghan police who were meeting with local residents in the Shah Joy district of southern Zabul province Monday, provincial officials said.
Three more children were wounded in the incident, which prompted the American and Afghan forces to fire back at the insurgents.
Both Afghan and U.S. officials concluded that the children were killed by insurgents’ bullets. But protesters nonetheless railed against foreign forces, whom they blamed for the casualties.
The protesters chanted anti-U.S. slogans and for several hours blocked the main highway that links the capital with key parts of southern and western Afghanistan, Zabul’s deputy governor, Mohammad Jan Rasoulyar, said in a telephone interview.
Rasoulyar and a spokesman for U.S. forces said Taliban fighters were responsible for the casualties. Rasoulyar said an investigative commission came to a similar conclusion.
When pressed as to why the demonstrators chanted anti-American slogans if the Taliban was behind the casualties, Rasoulyar said the insurgents had incited the residents to stage the protest.
Because of the village’s remoteness and poor phone lines, it was not immediately possible to contact the protesters or the victims’ relatives.
Rasoulyar said one Taliban assailant was killed in the exchange of fire and that there were no casualties among the U.S. and Afghan forces.
The meeting was aimed at persuading the villagers to form a unit of the U.S.-backed community self-defense force known as the Afghan Local Police (ALP) to resist the insurgents.
Taliban infiltrators or sympathizers have launched a number of attacks against ALP units inside their posts in recent months. At least 18 ALP members were killed in two of the attacks.
Separately, two children were reported killed by a roadside bomb Monday in eastern Paktika province.