Shooting Rattles Capital

American and Afghan officials seek to calm nerves after Kabul shooting incident.

Shooting Rattles Capital

American and Afghan officials seek to calm nerves after Kabul shooting incident.

Four soldiers from the national defense guard were killed by US embassy guards in a shooting incident on May 21, described by US and Afghan officials as “a mistake”.

A couple of the troops died on the spot and two others later succumbed to their wounds in hospital.

The incident reportedly happened when US marine guards observed soldiers from the 638th Afghan brigade, whose headquarters are across the street from the embassy, transporting weapons - without previously notifying American diplomats.

Bo Hjalmefjord, a Swedish consultant to the education ministry, had just arrived in Kabul and was on the way from the airport into the city, taking photos from outside his car window when suddenly he heard the sound of shooting.

His driver reversed the car and the interpreter told Hjalmefjord and his colleagues to get down on the floor of the vehicle. Afterwards the driver told the Swede that “he saw one Afghan soldier shot in the mouth and two others wounded”.

Tensions had already risen among US embassy personnel worldwide because Washington had issued an orange alert, which indicates a high risk of terrorist attack. After the shooting, it rose to red for several hours.

The cause of the incident remains unclear, although Kabul agrees with Washington’s conviction that it was a mistake. “ The Afghan soldiers were carrying weapons but unfortunately they had not informed the American embassy. That’s why the US guards fired shots at them. It was the result of a misunderstanding,” said interior minister Ali Ahmad Jalali at a press conference on May 22.

There were, however, suggestions that some officials were not happy with this version of events.

Atiqullah Baryalai, the first deputy minister of defense, had earlier insisted that the American guards fired on the Afghan soldiers without any reason.

An official in the defense ministry, who asked not to be identified, told IWPR one of Afghans was killed when an American soldier came into the street, put his foot on the wounded man’s head and shot him dead at point blank range.

Some eyewitnesses suggested that the Americans had opened fire after the Afghan soldiers fired at a passing car.

Mohammad Akbar, a Kabul taxi driver, who was traveling toward the centre of the city at the time, told IWPR he saw national defence guard troops shoot at a four-wheel-drive vehicle with blackened windows. “When I was going past the American Embassy main entrance, I suddenly heard the shooting and I tried to take cover,” he said.

President Karzai expressed condolences and regret to the victims families in a televised address to the nation on May 22. He said he had appointed a commission, led by Jalali, to investigate the incident.

Presidential advisor Zalmay Hewadmal told IWPR “the president has told the head of administrative affairs to visit the victim’s families and give them needed help and also to visit those injured”.

According to Baryalai, the defence ministry provided the families of the dead and injured financial assistance. He said the US embassy offered to do the same.

Kabulis expressed mixed feelings about the incident. One taxi driver said, “If we kill the US ambassador to Kabul they would say this is a misunderstanding?” But others quietly said that it wasn’t such a bad thing for the former Northern Alliance soldiers “to have a taste of their own medicine”.

Rahimullah Samander and Farida Nekzad are IWPR reporters in Kabul.

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