MEHTERLAM, Afghanistan — An angry Afghan man with a thick black beard ranted wildly at the U.S. officials, shouting about how an overnight military raid had killed 16 civilians in his village. An Afghan elder cried out in grief that his son and four grandsons were dead.
One after another, a long line of government officials, villagers and community leaders told American military officials at the Laghman governor's compound that Afghan soldiers must be allowed to take part in such raids. Several predicted increased violence against U.S. forces if more nighttime operations take place.
Three recent U.S. Special Forces operations killed 50 people — the vast majority civilians, Afghan officials say — raising the ire of villagers and President Hamid Karzai, who set a one-month deadline for his demand that Afghan soldiers play a bigger role in military operations.
"If these operations are again conducted in our area, all of our people are ready to carry out jihad. We cannot tolerate seeing the dead bodies of our children and women anymore," Malik Malekazratullah told the Associated Press.
U.S. officials said it was possible the conventional American troops stationed in Laghman province — a separate group from the Special Forces units that carried out the nighttime raids — could face an increased risk of attack.
"Any time there is that kind of public outcry, you can imagine that there are some people out there who may take that and put it into action," said Lt. Col. Dan Fuhr, the top U.S. commander in Laghman, one province east of Kabul.
The overnight raids target what U.S. officials say are known insurgent leaders. The Special Forces are dropped off outside a village by helicopter, then move in to capture or kill their targets.
The problem, Afghan officials say, comes when ordinary civilians hear the commotion. Fearing robbers or an attack from a hostile tribe, the close-knit villagers grab their guns and run outside or fire from their homes. U.S. forces then fire back and end up killing civilians.
Afghan officials say an overnight raid Jan. 7 in the village of Masmoot in Laghman killed 19 civilians. A raid in Kapisa on Jan. 19 killed 15 people, mostly civilians. And a second Laghman raid Jan. 23, in Guloch village, killed 16, they say.
"Maybe there were only two or three insurgents in Guloch, but I can tell you that there are thousands now," Abdul Qadir Kochai, a member of parliament on a delegation sent by Karzai, told the U.S. officials.
The U.S. officials listened to the complaints. They apologized for the deaths and promised increased cooperation.
"We know these raids have left many widows and orphans, and we want your advice on how we should help them," Fuhr told the group Wednesday.