KABUL, Afghanistan — United States soldiers opened fire on a bus carrying civilians Friday in central Afghanistan, killing four passengers after the driver refused to stop, military officials said.
The bus was heading toward 20 soldiers on foot patrol on a highway in central Wardak Province, a spokesman for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force said. The soldiers first fired warning rounds in the air to stop the vehicle, then shot into the engine block, the spokesman said. The bus kept coming, so they opened fire on the vehicle in self-defense, he said.
The provincial governor and local residents confirmed that the soldiers were American forces.
Dozens of angry Afghans threw stones at police after a convoy of foreign troops killed one civilian and wounded four more in the capital, Kabul, on November 28, 2008. (Reuters photo)
At least 10 passengers were wounded, said Halim Fidai, the governor of Wardak Province. The military said the wounded had been evacuated to military hospitals. The shooting occurred about 40 miles south of Kabul, the capital, on the main road between Kabul and the southern city of Kandahar.
The episode was one of a series that threatened to undermine Afghan support for foreign troops, just as the United States is preparing to significantly increase its military presence in the country. The United Nations said in September that 577 Afghan civilians had been killed this year by American, NATO and Afghan troops, a 21-percent increase from 2007. Taliban fighters and other insurgents killed an additional 800 civilians this year.
The blue bus was moved to the side of the road by Friday afternoon, and American troops cordoned off the area, according to a camera operator on the scene. The windows of the bus were shattered, and one side was pocked with holes. People gathered nearby to try to view the wreckage. Rahmat Ullah, who owns a construction company in Kabul but lives in Wardak, said he heard the shots around 10 a.m. from his house. He said he went outside to watch the wounded being moved into helicopters.
Spokesmen for American forces declined to comment, referring all inquiries to NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, because the troops were operating under its auspices.
Wardak and the neighboring province of Logar are two of the areas scheduled for an infusion of American combat forces in January, when the first of a total of 20,000 additional soldiers requested by American commanders are expected to arrive.