Behind the Riots in Kabul

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Kabul was wracked by the worst violence to hit the city since the fall of the Taliban Monday as around 1,000 demonstrators tore through the city looting Afghan businesses and setting foreign charities and NGOs ablaze. The surge of violence left at least 14 dead and another 142 injured. The demonstrations were sparked by a deadly traffic accident in which a U.S. convoy collided with traffic in a northern suburb in the capital. At least one Afghan was killed in the crash, and four others by shooting that immediately followed the accident, although it is unclear at this time if the bullets were from U.S. military firing over the crowd, or by Afghan police attempting to control the gathering throng.

The demonstrations grew as angry young men joined the conflagration and set ablaze every police box they passed on their rampage through the city. The capital reverberated with their chants of "Death to America" and their calls for all foreigners to leave the country. It is still unclear if the spasms of violence through out the city — hundreds of protestors in at least three locations — were spontaneous outpourings of pent-up anger or if they were orchestrated by anti-coalition forces. With violence in the south of Afghanistan at its worst levels since the U.S. military ousted the Taliban in 2001, public frustration with a government unable to deliver on promises of security has reached boiling point. Says one observer of the protest: "We are like dry tinder waiting for a match." A Western security contractor adds, "It's unrealistic to think that Kabul could be an oasis untouched by the violence sweeping the country."

Reports from both Western security agencies and Afghan intelligence sources say that some protestors were carrying maps with routes and targets, indicating some sort of advanced planning. However, other eyewitnesses say the outbreak of violence was simply a window of opportunity for criminals. "People on the outskirts of Kabul have always been bandits and are still thieves. They were just looking for an opportunity to loot houses," says Rauf, a shopkeeper in downtown Kabul. Either way, the behavior of Western military forces in Kabul has blown on the embers of resentment in recent months. Convoys routinely plow through traffic with no regards to civilians, and often visit brothels or engage in public drinking on the streets of the conservative Muslim city. Many Afghans feel that the foreign forces are having a well-funded party with booze and hookers laid on at the country's expense, using money slated for rebuilding their shattered nation.