Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Afghan police hunting insurgent kill parliament member instead

The lawmaker and his son are killed in an ambush that had been set to find insurgents transporting a wounded commander in Afghanistan's north. The incident raises more questions about security forces

Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan - Police hunting for a wounded insurgent commander mistakenly ambushed a vehicle carrying a member of the Afghan parliament, killing him and his son, provincial officials said today.

President Hamid Karzai ordered an investigation into the incident, which took place overnight in Baghlan province, in Afghanistan's north.

Taliban fighters and other insurgents have made significant inroads over the last year in the province. A new NATO supply route runs through the area, making it a magnet for militant strikes.

The lawmaker, Mohammad Yunos Shirnagha, was returning home after a late-night meeting with constituents when the shootout with police erupted, said Gen. Kabir Andarabi, the provincial police chief.

Police in the provincial capital, Pul-e-Kumri, had been expecting insurgents to try to transport a commander who was believed to have been injured in a clash hours earlier, on Tuesday. That battle left four police officers and at least four militants dead, and several insurgents wounded.

Accounts from Shirnagha's associates and provincial authorities differed as to circumstances surrounding the shootout, which took place at about 2:30 a.m.

The police said the lawmaker's car ran a roadblock set up by the authorities and that his vehicle was hit after the firing of warning shots into the air. But some fellow members of the upper house of parliament, and two surviving bodyguards, expressed doubts that police had properly identified themselves before opening fire.

The incident raises new questions about the training and abilities of the Afghan security forces, which are a linchpin of the Obama administration's plans for an eventual drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Western officials hope that Afghan police and soldiers will in the next several years be able to assume responsibility for safeguarding the country; in the meantime an additional 30,000 U.S. troops and 7,000 from NATO allies are to be deployed in the coming year.

Underscoring the importance placed on the role of the Afghan security forces, Karzai paid a visit today to a police academy, and also visited Afghan police and soldiers injured in the line of duty.

He was accompanied by the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who has said he would like to see the Afghan security forces grow from their current strength of about 250,000 to 400,000.

Also today, a roadside bomb apparently aimed at coalition forces killed three civilians and injured five others in Helmand province, in Afghanistan's south. Roadside bombs now account for about four-fifths of the casualties suffered by Western forces, and kill hundreds of Afghan civilians every year as well.

Military authorities today also disclosed the death of a British soldier a day earlier from a roadside bomb, also in Helmand.

In Paktia province, bordering Pakistan, coalition forces killed a Taliban commander who was blamed for the planting of a number of roadside bombs, military officials said.

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