Thirteen people were killed and 35 wounded in Afghanistan on Monday when police opened fire to break up a violent protest against a provincial governor, witnesses said.
Separately, Taliban militants ambushed U.S.-led coalition and Afghan forces escorting supply trucks in southern Afghanistan, sparking a 10-hour battle the coalition said killed an estimated two dozen militants, though villagers said Monday seven civilians also died.
In the north, more than 1,000 people were protesting to demand the removal of Juma Khan Hamdard, governor of Jowzjan province, and were throwing stones at several government offices in Shiberghan, the provincial capital, witnesses said.
Police fired to stop the protesters from raiding the offices, they said. A provincial government spokesman said the protesters were supporters of General Abdul Rashid Dostum, for years a powerful military commander in the Afghan north.
“We’ve got 13 dead and 35 wounded,” said Naqibullah, a doctor at Shiberghan’s main hospital said, adding some of the wounded were in critical condition.
Provincial spokesman Rohullah Samun, confirmed the casualties but said they were caused by the protesters. He said police fired into the air to disperse the protesters.
He said the protesters had staged an “uprising against the provincial government” and wanted to bring down the government flag and install that of Dostum’s faction.
“They were militias of Dostum,” he said.
The southern violence began Sunday when an Afghan police and coalition convoy hit two roadside bombs and was ambushed by Taliban fighters while escorting 24 supply trucks in Helmand province, a coalition statement said Monday. The blast killed one Afghan truck driver and wounded three coalition soldiers, it said.
Militants then launched rocket propelled grenades and small arms fire, and the ensuing 10-hour clash and airstrikes killed “an estimated two dozen enemy fighters,” it said.
The coalition said “one enemy fighting position” was destroyed, and that “no Afghan civilian injuries were reported.”
But Abdul Qudus, a villager from Helmand’s Gereshk district, told The Associated Press by phone that airstrikes hit a civilian area.
“They came and bombarded the houses of innocent people. Three houses were destroyed. Seven people — including women and children — were killed, and between 10 and 15 were wounded,” Qudus said. “Villagers are still searching for five missing people.”
Another villager, Abdul Wahid, said the airstrikes struck 10 miles away from the convoy ambush site on the main highway.
There was no way to verify the claims of either the coalition or the villagers at the remote battle site. Taliban fighters often seek cover in civilian homes, where they fire on U.S. and NATO forces, leading those homes to be targeted.
Civilian deaths have been an ongoing point of contention between the government of President Hamid Karzai and U.S. and NATO forces. Though the foreign troops say they do everything they can do avoid civilian casualties, an estimated 135 civilians have been killed this year due to U.S. or NATO military action, according to an Associated Press count based on numbers from U.S., Afghan and U.N. officials.
Reuters the The Associated Press both contributed to this report