KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghan police were accused of killing eight protesters at a demonstration on Wednesday as the U.S.-led coalition said it had opened an investigation into allegations of misconduct by NATO troops during an encounter with insurgents.
Both incidents occurred in southern Afghanistan where violence has escalated in recent weeks following a Taliban announcement launching the start of its spring offensive.
Villagers in the town of Maiwand said Afghan police opened fire on hundreds of demonstrators who were protesting raids that Afghan and NATO forces conducted in their village of Loye Karez two days earlier.
Accounts differed as to whether the eight killed were unarmed protesters or militants. Ten other people were wounded.
Kandahar Provincial Police Chief Gen. Abdul Raziq said Taliban insurgents had infiltrated the demonstration.
Abdul Qayyum, a 45-year-old demonstrator, disputed that, telling The Associated Press by phone that "there were no Taliban among the protesters."
"The local people of Maiwand district are so upset and unhappy with the government and the foreigners because they are conducting night raids on the houses of local people," he said. "With no reason, they are entering local houses and doing whatever they want. We don't want all these things to keep happening to us."
In the past, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has bitterly criticized raids on village homes, particularly those carried out during the night.
In a separate incident, the NATO-led force said Wednesday that it had launched an investigation into allegations of misconduct following an internal report into an April 28 encounter with insurgents in Zabul province.
The statement did not offer more details and Lt. Tamarac Dyer, a spokeswoman for the coalition, told the AP in an email that "this is the only information we are able to release at this time due to the ongoing investigation."
Afghan officials were not immediately available for comment.
The statement quoted U.S. Gen. Joseph Dunford, the top commander of NATO and U.S. troops in Afghanistan, as saying that the alliance takes "all allegations of misconduct by our personnel very seriously." He pledged to "fully investigate the incident and keep the Afghan government informed."
Elsewhere in southern Afghanistan, three people were killed when their vehicle triggered an explosive device in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province. Another six people were injured, said Shamim Noorzai, the provincial police chief spokesman.
Afghan security officials say improvised explosive devises, or IEDs, and suicide attacks present the greatest challenges for Afghan security forces in the battle against Taliban.
"They can't fight us face to face," Raziq said in a recent interview with the AP.
Also on Wednesday, the Afghan intelligence service said it arrested an Afghan national who confessed to having been sent by the Taliban to carry out a suicide bombing against Abdullah Abdullah, a presidential candidate in the 2009 election and the head of an opposition party called the National Coalition of Afghanistan.
It showed a video of the alleged would-be bomber whom the intelligence service said was arrested while scouting out Abdullah's headquarters. The intelligence service, the National Directorate of Security said Abdullah and another member of the opposition party, Ahmed Zia Masoud, were the intended targets.
Fazal Sangcharaki, a spokesman for Abdullah Abdullah, said the strident anti-Taliban leader has had many threats in the past, but "unfortunately the NDS has not informed us about this arrest and this particular threat."
Khan reported from Kandahar. AP writers Rahim Faiez and Amir Shah in Kabul contributed to the report. Kathy Gannon, AP special regional correspondent for Afghanistan and Pakistan, can be followed at www.twitter.com/kathygannon