US Marines probe Afghan civilian killings in March

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WASHINGTON, Oct 11 (Reuters) The US Marine Corps today said it will investigate the March killing of a number of Afghan civilians, opening a formal process that could lead to trials under military law.

The Marine Corps will convene a court of inquiry -- an administrative fact-finding process authorized under US military law -- into a March 4 incident in which a US Marine special forces unit has been accused of firing on civilians.

The US military said in March 16 Afghan civilians were killed and 24 wounded after a Taliban ambush on a US convoy that drew return fire from US troops.

The incident was first investigated by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. After reviewing evidence from that probe, the Marine Corps general with authority over the probe ordered the court of inquiry.

Once that is concluded, the general will decide whether charges should be brought against any Marines involved.

Western forces fighting the Taliban have been criticized for the killing of civilians in Afghanistan. But US military and NATO officials regularly blame the Taliban for civilian deaths, saying the group operates from within civilian areas.

Reuters SYU VP0025

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