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US Military Apologizes for Killing of 3 Unarmed Afghans - 2004-08-23

The U.S. military is apologizing for the killing of three unarmed civilians at a checkpoint in eastern Afghanistan, and says it is investigating the incident.

The civilians were shot dead in their vehicle Saturday night in rural Ghazni Province.

U.S. military spokesman Major Scott Nelson said Monday that the vehicle failed to obey directions at a road checkpoint, jointly manned by U.S. troops and the newly-established Afghan National Army, or ANA.

"This vehicle approached the checkpoint, did not slow down, did not stop," he said. "The ANA at that point shot 30 to 50 rounds as warning shots."

He said U.S. soldiers at the site then opened fire. In addition to the three killed, two other passengers were seriously wounded in the incident, and later evacuated to a military hospital.

Major Nelson apologized, but also urged civilian vehicles to comply with military checkpoint directives.

"We're very sorry that this incident did happen. It's very much a tragedy," he said. "However, it's very important that people understand [that], for people not to obey ANA directions causes incidents like this."

He said the military has launched an investigation, both into the circumstances of the Saturday shooting and to determine how to make the checkpoints safer.

The United States currently has more than 17,000 troops in Afghanistan to assist the transitional government with security as it attempts to rebuild the country's institutions following two decades of war.

Relations between the U.S. military and Afghan civilians have sometimes been strained, in part due to local resentment over U.S. raids on houses believed tied to anti-government militant activity.

Transitional President Hamid Karzai met earlier this month with the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Lieutenant General David Barno, in an attempt to ease such tensions.