KABUL, Afghanistan, AP – Afghan human rights activists warned Saturday that allegations that an American security contractor killed his Afghan interpreter could hurt the image of the United States here — even as the U.S. military suffers its deadliest year yet fighting Taliban rebels.
Underscoring the danger, militants firing rocket-propelled grenades killed a U.S. soldier and wounded another during combat operations Friday near the southern city of Kandahar, the military said. The death brought to 198 the number of U.S. service members killed in or around Afghanistan since the ouster of the unpopular Taliban regime in late 2001.
Relatives of the slain interpreter, 37-year old Noor Ahmad, threatened to set themselves on fire unless his American supervisor is tried for his death, which occurred at a compound of U.S. Protection and Investigations in western Farah province. U.S. Embassy spokesman Lou Fintor told The Associated Press that it was "our understanding that this American citizen is no longer in Afghanistan."
The case has raised questions about the reach of Afghanistan”s fledgling legal system and law enforcers.
Foreigners working on civilian projects are generally subject to Afghan law, but the legal status of security contractors appears unclear. U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan come under American military jurisdiction.
The Farah police chief said Thursday that his investigators were barred from entering the security company”s compound after the shooting.
Ahmad Fahim Hakim, the deputy chairman of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, urged a thorough and transparent probe into the shooting.
"We are very concerned about this kind of incident," he said. "It also blurs the friendly image that the Americans developed in Afghanistan in the early days. That is gradually vanishing."
There are conflicting reports about what triggered the shooting.
Relatives claim the American opened fire during a late-night party because of a personal grievance against the Afghan. But a local militia commander who heard the shooting and later saw Ahmad”s body claimed the interpreter was to blame.
The company provides security for foreign contract workers in Afghanistan.
Company officials have repeatedly declined comment.
Fazel Ahmad, 45, a brother of the dead man, said that if the American was allowed to flee it would be a mockery of Afghan democracy.
"My brother who died has seven children. Who will take care of them? This guy should be brought to justice and there should be an open trial because he is a foreigner and he has killed a poor Afghan man," Fazel Ahmad told the AP in Herat.
Also Saturday, police announced the arrest of a key commander suspected in bomb attacks against coalition forces. The commander, known as Gafar, was arrested Wednesday by U.S. and Afghan forces during a raid on a central Afghanistan home, where he tried to conceal his identity by dressing as a woman.