WASHINGTON, April 15: US Marines went on a shooting rampage in Afghanistan last month, killing 12 civilians -- including a four-year-old girl and a one-year-old boy -- and wounding at least 33 others, a US military inquiry concluded.

A report by the Afghan human rights commission also came to the same conclusion.

The civilians were killed and wounded when a convoy of marines in six Humvees responded to a suicide bomber’s roadside ambush in Nangrahar province by shooting at passersby on a 16km stretch of road near Jalalabad.

Citing a US commander who ordered an investigation into the killings, The Washington Post reported that there was no evidence the marine special operations platoon came under small-arms fire after the bombing, although the marines reported taking enemy fire and seeing people with weapons.

The troops continued shooting at perceived threats as they travelled along the road from the site of the March 4 attack, Major General Frank Kearney, head of US Special Operations Command Central told the Post. The marines hit several vehicles, killing at least 10 people and wounding 33, among them children and elderly villagers.

“We found ... no (evidence) we can confirm that small arms fire came at them,” Gen. Kearney said. “We have testimony from marines that is in conflict with unanimous testimony from civilians at the sites.”

A US military spokesman in Afghanistan, Maj William Mitchell, told reporters immediately after the March 4 attack: “We certainly believe it’s possible that the incoming fire from the ambush was wholly or partly responsible for the civilian casualties.”

But Gen Kearney disagreed: “My investigating officer believes those folks were innocent ... we were unable to find evidence those were fighters.”

On Gen Kearney’s orders, the US Naval Criminal Investigative Service is conducting an investigation that could lead to courts-martial of those involved, the Post said. The military investigation found direct evidence, such as broken glass, showing that the Marines kept firing for about three miles as they left the ambush site in a convoy.

Gen Kearney did not dispute allegations from an Afghan human rights investigation that the shooting had gone on much longer.

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