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Archive for Tuesday, February 19, 2002

Two British peacekeepers sent home after Afghan shooting death

February 19, 2002

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— Two British peacekeepers who allegedly fired at a car carrying a pregnant woman have returned home amid accusations the shooting, which killed her brother-in-law, was unprovoked, an official said Tuesday.

Afghan and British police are investigating the shooting, but the soldiers only will answer questions from British police, said Capt. Graham Dunlop, a spokesman for the British peacekeeping force.

"Britain retains exclusive jurisdiction over the soldiers," Dunlop said, insisting any legal action against the two soldiers sent home would be taken in Britain. "If they need to be punished, they will be dealt with by us," he said.

The pre-dawn shooting last week has angered Afghans in Kabul, who say the soldiers fired 60 bullets at a car that violated a nighttime curfew as it raced to take a pregnant woman to a hospital.

The paratroopers were manning an observation post atop an abandoned grain silo overlooking a muddy slum.

The area is largely abandoned at night and the soldiers apparently opened fire moments after the car's noisy engine and headlights were turned on.

Dunlop had no information on whether the two soldiers were the only members of their six-man patrol to fire. Each soldier's SA-80 rifle carries 30 rounds.

Amaun Isaq, 20, was killed by a gunshot wound to the head. His sister-in-law, Faria, gave birth that night.

No weapons were found at the scene.

Mohammed Isaq, the brother of the slain man, reacted with anger at news the paratroopers were sent home and demanded an open trial in Afghanistan.

"I will not know if they went to England to rest at home or to be investigated," Isaq said. "I will be satisfied that justice has been done if there is a trial that I can see and if the trial is in Afghanistan."

On Tuesday, the British-led peacekeeping force launched a nighttime ambulance service for people who need to get to the hospital during the curfew.

"At the moment there is no ambulance service. If people need to be moved at night to hospital then they have to run the curfew and try to get a taxi. It's pretty hit-and-miss as to whether they get to hospital or not," said Maj. Alan Hawley of the peacekeeping force.

Four ambulances will be operating every night, Hawley said.

Although the shooting has angered many, most Afghans consider the 4,500-member peacekeeping force in Kabul vital protection against the brutal factional fighting that has left much of the city including Faria's neighborhood in ruins.

The Afghan government wants the peacekeeping force expanded and its mandate enlarged to include other cities besides Kabul.

Meanwhile, a U.S. general has begun a mission to help Afghanistan establish a national army with fighters loyal to the central government instead of to tribal leaders or local warlords.

The visit by Maj. Gen. Charles Campbell, chief of staff of the U.S. Central Command, is part of a plan to create a training program for the Afghan army, a U.S. Embassy military representative said.

U.S. soldiers are expected to arrive in about a month to begin training about 600 Afghans, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The Afghan officers then would train future army units.

Since the Taliban were ousted, warlords have sought to extend their authority in several provinces. The cohesion of the government itself was questioned last week when interim Prime Minister Hamid Karzai accused high-ranking officials within his own administration of assassinating the aviation and tourism minister.

On Monday, The New York Times reported that U.S. warplanes last weekend flew bombing raids that Afghan commanders in the area said were aimed at warring militia forces rather than the Taliban or al-Qaida.

According to the newspaper, the bombing raids marked the first time U.S. airpower had been used in defense of the Karzai government against warring Afghan factions.

Pakistani officials along the border confirmed the weekend raids but had no details on the targets.

U.S. officials confirmed that land- and sea-based planes launched airstrikes in eastern Afghanistan over the weekend after coalition forces were attacked while trying to pass a roadblock.

Also Tuesday, planes from British, Pakistani, Saudi and Emirati planes were conducting an airlift to take Islamic faithful on their annual pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. A lack of flights has blocked thousands from making the journey, worrying people who paid for the trip but may not be able to go.

As of Monday morning, 1,600 pilgrims had flown to Saudi Arabia, Dunlop said. Peacekeepers said earlier that 7,000 pilgrims were issued Saudi visas for the pilgrimage.

The urgency in moving pilgrims to Mecca was brought home after Afghanistan's aviation minister, Abdul Rahman, was killed at the Kabul airport last week during a riot among would-be pilgrims furious over flight delays to Saudi Arabia.

Karzai said senior officials, including the deputy intelligence chief, were behind the killing, and he vowed to punish them. It was unclear if he was implying that the officials used the rioters as cover or that they incited the mob.

The government appointed two Cabinet ministers to investigate the killing, a member of the commission, Mir Wais Sadeq said Tuesday. Sadeq is the minister of labor and social affairs.

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