Hundreds of Afghan troops and Nato peacekeepers are guarding the capital today, following riots sparked by a deadly traffic accident involving US troops.
At least eight people were killed and 107 injured in yesterday’s fighting, officials said. Protesters looted shops and shouted: “Death to America!” in the rioting that gripped Kabul after the accident.
Hundreds of Afghan army troops and Nato peacekeepers in tanks were deployed around the city yesterday, as chanting protesters marched on the presidential palace and rioters smashed police guard boxes, set fire to police cars and ransacked buildings, including the compound of aid group Care International.
Computers were set on fire and smoke billowed from the buildings, according to an Associated Press reporter.
Witnesses said Afghan and US troops opened fire to quell protesters. A US spokesman said American troops shot into the air, and AP Television News video showed a machine gun on a Humvee firing over the crowd as the vehicle sped away.
But a Kabul police chief said US troops had fired into the crowd.
The AP reporter saw several demonstrators pull a man who appeared to be a Westerner from a civilian vehicle and beat him. The man escaped and ran to a line of police, who fired shots over the heads of the demonstrators.
The spokesman for the US-led coalition expressed regret for any deaths and injuries and said there would be an investigation.
Afghan president Hamid Karzai appealed for calm, branding rioters “agitators” and saying in a national address that Afghans must stand against those who looted and destroyed property.
The government imposed a 10pm-to-4am curfew in the capital, the Interior Ministry said.
A purported Taliban spokesman, Mohammed Hanif, accused US troops of firing on people and said that showed that “Americans consider the whole Afghan nation as their enemies”.
Hanif claims to speak for the hardline militia but his links to its leadership are unclear. He telephoned an AP reporter in Pakistan by satellite phone from an undisclosed location.
Abdullah Fahim, a Health Ministry spokesman, said eight bodies were brought to hospitals in Kabul and 107 more Afghans were treated for injuries.
He said there were no foreigners among the wounded or dead. He had no details on how the casualties occurred, and it was not immediately clear if the toll included people from the traffic accident.
The riot was the worst in Kabul since US-led forces ousted the Taliban in late 2001. It erupted in the city’s northern suburbs before spreading into the city centre and then to other areas frequented by foreigners, including areas near US and Nato bases.
The unrest started after three US Humvee vehicles coming into the city from the outskirts rammed into a rush-hour traffic jam, hitting several civilian cars, witnesses said.
The coalition said at least one person was killed and six injured in the crash, but police said at least three people were killed and 16 injured.
A Kabul police chief, Sher Shah Usafi, said another person was killed when US troops fired into a crowd of stone-throwing protesters soon after the crash.
Colonel Thomas Collins, a coalition spokesman, confirmed there was gunfire at the scene, but said coalition personnel in one military vehicle fired only over the crowd.
He said a large cargo truck in a coalition convoy had suffered a mechanical failure and hit as many as 12 civilian vehicles at a busy intersection. He said the coalition was investigating.