The family of a well-known and respected Afghan journalist, killed in an attack near the main Australian base in Afghanistan, has rejected compensation from the U.S. military and is seeking asylum in Australia. Omed Khpulwak, who worked for an Afghan news service as well as freelancing for other media outlets, including the BBC and Australia’s ABC News, was shot dead by U.S. troops in July. He was mistaken for a suicide bomber during an insurgent attack in Tarin Kowt, the capital of Oruzgan Province. His brother, Ahmad Jawid Khpulwak, told ABC News, "I want from Australian Government to please give us, to our family, the safety because Americans shoot us."
Omaid Khpulwak’s relatives are demanding a further investigation into his death. The U.S. soldier responsible for his death is not facing any disciplinary action in connection with the incident, according to International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jimmie Cummings. The attack in the southern Afghanistan town left 19 people dead after two Taliban suicide bombers struck the offices of state broadcaster Radio Television Afghanistan in Tarin Kot. U.S. forces were clearing the building after the attack when a soldier saw Khpulwak near a broken wall and others believed they heard him fire a shot.
Another soldier approached him and saw him "with something clinched in one of his fists and reaching for something on his person with his other hand," according to the ISAF’s report. "The soldier assessed the actions as those of a suicide bomber who was taking steps to detonate an IED (bomb). He shot the individual with his M-4 (assault rifle)… After a thorough investigation, it was determined the reporter was killed in a case of mistaken identity," ISAF said in a statement.
ISAF later discovered that Khpulwak was at the RTA compound to file a story when the attack took place. He was unarmed and the shot which soldiers heard was probably fired by one of their own side. Australian troops were called in to help evacuate casualties after the attack. ABC Afghanistan correspondent Sally Sara says the journalist’s killing sent shockwaves through the Afghan media, his killing triggering concern from human rights and press freedom groups in Afghanistan.
"The loss of Ahmed Omid is a tragedy for his family and friends as well as his colleagues at the BBC," said Peter Horrocks, director of BBC global news. "Ahmed Omid’s death further highlights the great dangers facing journalists who put their lives on the line to provide vital news from around the world."
Representatives of the Taliban have also expressed their condolences and regret over his killing.
"We have to leave Tarin Kowt but we don’t know where we will go," Ahmad Jawid Khpulwak said. "We have had warnings from both sides – from the Taliban and Americans. When we started our investigation as to who killed my brother, we had a warning from an American to stop our investigation and stop talking to the media."
He said the Taliban had also demanded the family hand over any money they received in compensation for Omed’s death.
The claims have been denied by the International Security Assistance Force, which said it had been working closely and openly with the Khpalwak family since the "unfortunate incident."
"No one from the family has contacted U.S. officials, military officials or ISAF with any of these concerns," Lieutenant Colonel Jimmie Cummings said yesterday. "As far as any claims of harassment by U.S. officials or U.S. military, that is totally untrue.
"We do not go around threatening people we have been helping."