Troops fire on crowd in Afghanistan


At least five Afghan civilians were wounded when a combined force of Afghan troops and US Marines opened fire on a crowd at the gate to a military base in Helmand, Afghanistan's most volatile province, Nato said today.

The incident, which took place on Wednesday but was not reported until Friday, was the second demonstration to turn violent in two days in Helmand's Garmsir district, suggesting mounting civil unrest in a part of the country where US Marines under Nato command made major advances last year.

"ANA and ISAF forces warned a crowd of between 200 and 400 assembled civilians to keep its distance from the outpost," a Nato statement said, referring to the Afghan National Army and Nato-led International Security Assistance Force.

ISAF is manned in the area by US Marines.

"A number of civilians in the crowd disregarded instructions, resulting in forces firing warning shots. Deliberative escalation of force procedures were followed, but one individual continued to ignore instructions, striking members of the combined force with a stick," the statement said.

Lieutenant-Colonel Todd Breasseale said both Afghan troops and the US Marines subsequently fired at the crowd. An investigation was under way to determine which force's bullets had struck each the five people who were wounded.

Civilian casualties caused by Nato troops are one of the most emotive issues in Afghanistan's eight-year-old conflict.

The incident came a day after another violent demonstration in Garmsir. During that earlier demonstration, US Marines say they fired only at a sniper, who had shot into their base. Afghan officials say Afghan troops killed eight protesters and wounded 13 who were trying to storm a government building.