Taliban condemns deaths following Afghan protest

By JON GAMBRELL | May 19, 2011 | 3:44 AM EDT

An unidentified U.S. soldier is seen at the scene of a suicide attack in Jalalabad, Nangarhar province, east of Kabul, Afghanistan on Wednesday, May 18, 2011. Afghan officials say at least 10 people have been killed in a bomb attack on a police bus that was carrying people to a police academy in eastern Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Taliban on Thursday condemned violence that killed 12 people the day before during an Afghan protest against NATO that turned into a riot with the demonstrators attempting to overrun a small German military base nearby.

The Taliban statement focused on a protest in the northern city of Taloqan that followed a nighttime NATO raid in the area that left four people dead. NATO later said the dead were insurgents, while Afghan officials said they were civilians.

An estimated 1,500 demonstrators protested the raid early Wednesday morning while marching with the bodies of the dead, but the crowd soon became violent. Protesters looted shops and threw stones at a small German base there. The German military said some in the crowd began throwing hand grenades and Molotov cocktails, injuring two German soldiers and four Afghan guards.

Rioters and police later exchanged gunfire, leaving at least 12 protesters dead and 50 people wounded — including some police officers, a government spokesman said.

The Taliban described the violence as a "crime against humanity" in a statement released on Thursday. The Taliban also blamed German soldiers for shooting the protesters.

Night NATO raids often stir discontent in Afghanistan, as some argue they are an affront to a culture that highly values the sanctity of the home. Residents often claim that international forces go after the wrong people or mistreat civilians as they search compounds. The accusations have persisted despite NATO's success in reducing civilian casualties and its agreement to conduct night raids alongside Afghan forces.

Protesters also criticized Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The president later issued a statement criticizing the NATO raid, saying the four killed in the raid were members of a family wrongly targeted. Karzai also said the raid had not been coordinated with local forces, something NATO later denied.

Wednesday's riot suggests more trouble ahead for NATO as upcoming troop drawdowns are likely to make the alliance increasingly reliant on quick-strike raids on insurgent hideouts. The first U.S. forces are to begin withdrawing from Afghanistan in July.