US troops killed Khpalwak: ISAF
KABUL (PAN): The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) acknowledged on Thursday killing Pajhwok Afghan News (PAN) reporter Ahmad Omaid Khpalwak during a battle with insurgents in central Uruzgan province in late July.
Khpalwak was among 19 people killed in several hours of fighting that erupted soon after six suicide bombers stormed the Governor's House and other buildings in Tirinkot, the provincial capital, on July 28.
Another 37 people, including women, children and Afghan policemen, were wounded in the fierce gunbattle. The journalist was in the Radio and Television Afghanistan (RTA) building at the time of the Taliban assault.
Following a string of calls from journalists' bodies and civil society organisations, NATO Commander Gen. John Allen appointed an officer to probe the circumstances that led to Khpalwak's death.
"After a thorough investigation, it was determined the reporter was killed in a case of mistaken identity," the NATO-led force said in the investigation report. Khpalwak was shot dead by an ISAF member, who mistook him for an insurgent.
Afghan journalists have long been complaining that international soldiers rarely bother about looking at their professional identity cards in such situations, something that endangers their lives in addition to impeding their work.
Ahmad Javed Khpalwak, the victim's brother, told PAN that two ISAF teams including American and Australian military representatives shared with their family the findings during a visit to their residence. They also apologised over the reporter's death, he said.
"The investigation officer found that the ISAF member involved in this incident complied with the laws of armed conflict and rules of engagement and acted reasonably under the circumstances," the report said.
At a meeting with Pajhwok Director Danish Karokhel, ISAF Public Affairs Director Gary Kolb read out a summary of the army report. He deeply regretted the journalist's killing.
According to the report, two militants armed with small arms and suicide vests used a vehicle-borne bomb to destroy the Radio and Television Department's gate and part of the wall to enter the compound.
On reaching the compound, US forces began to receive small arms fire. As they responded with crew-served weapons, the American soldiers were informed by their Afghan counterparts that two suicide bombers were inside the building. They had no information regarding the presence of civilians, the report added.
"Upon US soldiers entering the RTA building, the two suicide bombers detonated their explosives," it said. As a result, the front walls collapsed and members of the clearing team were trapped under the debris.
A soldier in an overwatch position outside the compound saw through a hole in the wall a young man's movement in a room adjacent to the one where one of the assailants had detonated his explosive vest, the inquiry summary said.
Later, the soldier heard a gunshot that he thought came from the reporter's location. Another soldier was asked to move up to the broken wall where the young man had been seen. He observed a bearded adult, clinching something in one hand and reaching for something on his person with the other.
The servicemember believed the individual was a suicide attacker, who was taking steps to detonate his explosives, which posed a "lethal threat" to numerous troops in the area.
When the US military personnel withdrew from the scene, Afghan forces removed Khpalwak's body from the room. "He was unarmed; no weapon was found nearby. It appears all the rounds perceived as coming from him were instead fired by US soldiers."
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