KABUL, Afghanistan – Hundreds of angry protesters chanting "Death to Bush" and "Death to Karzai" demonstrated in eastern Afghanistan after U.S.-led coalition and Afghan forces raided a suspected car bomb cell early Sunday, leaving four militants and two female civilians dead, officials said.
The latest civilian deaths occurred in the same area of eastern Nangarhar province where a U.S. Marines convoy, fleeing after being hit by a homicde car bomb on March 4, opened fire on vehicles and pedestrians, killing 12 people.
Abdul Mohammad, a Nangarhar police investigator, said the operation early Sunday left five civilians dead, including two women.
He said villagers had taken the bodies to the main highway and blocked the road in an angry hourslong protest. They lashed out at President Bush and his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai, as well as the governor of Nangarhar.
Coalition and Afghan forces jointly raided a compound in the Bati Kot area of Nangarhar province, the coalition statement said, acting on a tip indicating that the cell was planning three suicide car bomb attacks against coalition forces in the coming weeks.
The coalition said that after being fired upon, the coalition forces returned fire, killing four militants, an adult woman and a teenage girl. Another child and teenage girl were wounded during the gunfight and were being treated at a coalition facility.
Coalition forces found multiple several guns and bomb-making materials, and detained one man from the compound for questioning.
"It is extremely unfortunate that militants put others' lives in danger by hiding among their families," said Maj. Chris Belcher, a coalition spokesman.
The coalition said it arrested four other suspects and discovered more bomb-making materials at another compound raided early Sunday, also in Bati Kot.
Mohammad, the Nangarhar director of police criminal investigations, said the operation targeted three houses and that six people were arrested.
The villagers brought the bodies Sunday morning to the main highway between Jalalabad and Torkham, where hundreds of demonstrators came to protest the deaths, he said.
After the villagers dispersed, police worked to clear dozens of large trees that the protesters felled to block the road.
Afghan officials have repeatedly pleaded with coalition and NATO forces to be careful to prevent civilian deaths. The latest violence is likely to deepen distrust among Afghans, whose support for international forces and the shaky U.S.-backed government is waning.
The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission said the Marines, after being hit by an explosives-rigged minivan on March 4, violated international humanitarian law by using excessive force when they opened fire at civilians along a 10-mile stretch of road, leaving 12 people dead.
A U.S. military commander also has determined that the Marines used excessive force, and referred the case for possible criminal inquiry.
The troubled eastern provinces along the Pakistan border are known to be home to insurgents from the Taliban and other militant groups.
NATO troops, meanwhile, pushed ahead with their largest-ever operation in the south in the opium heartland of Helmand province.
In Nahri Sarraj district, a NATO service member was wounded Sunday in a gunbattle with insurgents, NATO's International Security Assistance Force said. It provided no further details about the nationality of the wounded service member.