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Anti-US riots shake Kabul

5 June 2006. A World to Win News Service.

The 29 May Kabul protests against the US armed forces, the most intense political actions in Afghanistan’s capital since the fall of the Taliban, were a telling result of nearly five years of occupation by the US and its allies.

The protests were sparked by a deadly traffic accident caused by a US military convoy. A flatbed truck leading the convoy smashed into at least 12 cars in morning rush-hour traffic in the northern part of Kabul, causing many deaths and injuries. People at the scene, including relatives, tried to approach and help the injured, but US soldiers stopped them. This added to the long-simmering resentment against the arrogant and dangerous way American convoys often barrel at top speed through the city to and from the Kandahar military base, often crashing through anything in their way, preventing other vehicles from approaching or overtaking them, and waving their guns around, even at other troops. The American soldiers found themselves trapped between an angry crowd and the smashed cars and could not escape, but they refused to back down and let the crowd rescue the injured. At least one Humvee opened fire with its heavy machine gun. This, in turn, made the people’s anger boil over. Students on their way to class and others in the crowd reacted by throwing stones at the convoy and shouting, ?Death to the US? and other anti-US slogans. The US military vehicles fled the scene, leaving it to the arriving Afghan police to continue shooting. The protestors rightly saw these police as US puppets and stoned them as well.

The protests spread quickly to the city centre, close to US and Nato military bases and the area where their personnel and diplomats frequently visit. According to one witness, guards shot a dozen people as they tried to break into a British security company compound. Other protestors trying to reach the US Embassy across town were blocked by Afghan police and soldiers. Hundreds more marched towards parliament in the city?s southwest. Chanting ?Death to America? and ?Death to Karzai?, they tore down a large poster of Karzai, burned a US flag and attacked the offices and buildings and symbols of the government and occupiers. They burned a police station, police vehicles and other cars, a TV company headquarters, a post office and several NGO compounds, including the offices of the international aid organization CARE and the French NGO Acted. Across the city protesters fought with police officers and ransacked offices belonging to foreign organizations. One of the protesters, Jaweed Agha, told the Reuters news agency, ?We don?t accept Karzai as president anymore, and we protest against him.? The fighting continued until late afternoon. According to the Afghan authorities, there were at least 20 deaths and more than 160 injuries. That night Kabul was put under a military curfew for the first time since the US invasion. Heavily armed Afghan Army and Nato forces patrolled the capital.

The American military lied about the incident, claiming that their soldiers were attacked without provocation after an unavoidable accident due to ?mechanical failure? and simply defended themselves by firing over people?s heads. Even the chief of the highway police in Kabul, a witness to the scene, had to set the record straight on that. When a parliamentarian complained that US troops should obey traffic laws and Karzai felt compelled to suggest that they shouldn?t shoot civilians, US authorities rejected these comments out of hand, pointing out that Afghanistan had signed a treaty under which the country cannot arrest or prosecute occupation troops ? a naked reminder of who holds real power in the country. US authorities quickly pronounced their men innocent of any wrongdoing, thereby confirming that in terrorizing and murdering civilians these soldiers were following official policy.                                     

This protest was a shock to a city long considered ?a haven? of security by many Westerners, and a serious blow to the puppet regime of President Hamid Karzai, who is struggling to contain an escalating insurgency in the country. It was also an alarming day for an American military already involved in Iraq on a large scale and threatening to launch another war against Iran. Afghanistan, often trumpeted as a triumph by American war makers, is becoming another source of increasing pressure on the US military.

As the news spread, anger was transmitted all over Afghanistan. The protests flared up with such speed and intensity because people are losing patience with government and the presence of the US and other foreign troops in Afghanistan. What worries Western officials and their Afghan allies is not just the intensity of the storm but its direction.