Asia Crisis

Afghans protest over U.S. killing of civilians

KABUL, March 6 (Reuters) - Hundreds of Afghans protested in the eastern city of Jalalabad on Tuesday over the killing of several civilians by U.S. forces, an issue analysts warn is undermining support for foreign troops.

About 2,000 people blocked the main road between Jalalabad, near Pakistan, and Kabul chanting "Death to Americans!".

Afghan officials say U.S. marines shot dead at least 10 people during a gunfight outside Jalalabad after a suicide attack at the weekend. New York-based Human Rights Watch says between eight and 16 civilians were shot dead.

The U.S. military will only say 16 people died in the suicide bombing and subsequent firing.

"Suicide bombers in Afghanistan regularly pose as civilians, but that doesn't give coalition forces carte blanche to respond with indiscriminate fire," said the group's Asia director, Brad Adams.

"The fact that the insurgents violate the laws of war doesn't absolve the US and its allies of the need to observe them.

Human Rights Watch said it was "concerned that the U.S. military is attempting to control information" about the incident, saying the military confiscated the cameras of local and foreign journalists and deleted images and footage.

The Afghan government has launched an inquiry, but similar investigations by the government, NATO and U.S. forces have done nothing more than confirm initial witness accounts.

On Monday, U.S. forces killed nine civilians -- five women, three children and an old man -- with a 2,000 pound bomb near Kabul after a post was attacked.

"The U.S. military should ensure that meaningful investigations take place in both cases," Human Rights Watch said in its statement.

"Appropriate action, including disciplinary measures and prosecution, should be undertaken as warranted."

Last year was the bloodiest since the Taliban were ousted by U.S.-led forces in 2001. Of the 4,000 people killed in fighting, about 1,000 were civilians.

Afghan leaders say foreign soldiers need to work more closely with local soldiers and police to be able to tell militants from ordinary people and minimise civilian deaths.