KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Soldiers shot and killed an Afghan civilian who approached their patrol Saturday in Helmand province, fearing that the person might be a suicide bomber, military officials with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force said.
The death comes a day after Canadian forces reported that their soldiers had killed a man whose truck came too close to their convoy in the city of Kandahar and amid increasing international concern over the mounting number of civilian deaths in the war.
In both cases, the soldiers, suspecting suicide bombers, issued verbal commands and fired warning shots before killing the civilians, military officials said.
In the Sangin district of Helmand province, soldiers opened fire after an Afghan civilian approached their foot patrol and ignored verbal warnings to stop. The soldiers fired two warning shots, then one fatal round, after the civilian did not stop. The soldiers rendered first aid, but the person died, according to the statement.
An ISAF spokesperson declined to identify the nationality of the troops involved, but most foreign soldiers operating in Helmand province are British. The spokesperson said reports from the field did not specify whether the civilian was a man or a woman.
Canadian forces in Kandahar reported their troops opened fire Thursday night after the driver of a cargo truck ignored numerous warning signals to stop driving towards their convoy.
Lt. Alain Blondin, a Canadian military spokesman, said troops tried several times to get the truck to stop, then fired two warning shots from a 5.56 mm rifle. After the truck failed to stop, a Light Armored Vehicle opened fire with two rounds from its 25 mm cannon, killing one man inside the truck.
Coalition troops generally consider vehicles and persons who ignore repeated warnings not to approach them as hostile and often use lethal force in self-defense.
Blondin said the troops followed proper procedures governing the escalation of force. An initial investigation determined that the vehicle, known as a jingle truck because of its painted designs and other adornments, was carrying fruit. An investigation by Canadian military police and Afghan police is continuing, he said.
Military officials say that ISAF runs frequent public service announcements and advertising campaigns warning civilians to keep a safe distance from military convoys, and vehicles frequently display signs warning them to stay away.
The two fatal shootings come just days after the United Nations released a report that found a 40 percent increase in civilian war deaths during the first eight months of 2008 over the same period last year.
The U.N. reported that 1,445 civilians died from January to August of this year, compared to 1,040 civilian deaths during the same period in 2007. Fifty-five percent of the deaths were attributed to the Taliban and other insurgent forces. More than two-thirds of the 577 civilian deaths attributed to Afghan or coalition forces were caused by airstrikes, the report found.
On Wednesday, a day after the U.N. report came out, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said during a visit to Kabul that the U.S. military needs to work harder to prevent civilian deaths.
A report issued this month by the group Human Rights Watch gave a more conservative estimate of overall civilian deaths than the U.N. figures. Human Rights Watch said that at least 540 Afghan civilians were killed because of fighting. At least 367 died during attacks by insurgent forces, and 173 died during U.S. or NATO attacks.