US soldier deleted media images to protect inquiry: NATO

A US soldier who erased journalists' images after US troops fired into a crowd of Afghan civilians was trying to protect the site for future inquiries, a NATO investigation has concluded.

US Marines opened fire after a suicide attack on March 4, killing 10 Afghan civilians near Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan.

Journalists complained that US troops subsequently erased images they had taken of the aftermath.

"Though the investigation remains classified, what is clear from the investigation is that the deletion of any film media by ISAF forces was an isolated event by one soldier, who was working to ensure the protection of the site for security, force protection and investigational purposes," according to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) investigation.

A security perimeter was established by US soldiers who arrived a little after the suicide attack, but one journalist went beyond it on two occasions, with another joining him the second time, according to an ISAF statement based on interviews with soldiers, interpreters and journalists.

Witnesses accused the marines of opening fire indiscriminately on civilians. The marines insisted they only opened fire after coming under attack from automatic weapons.

An investigation has been carried out into the marines and their part in the deaths of the civilians, but the findings have not been made public.

Two weeks after the incident, the unit of marine special forces responsible for the shooting received orders to leave Afghanistan.

A US Army spokesman earlier said the images had been deleted to "protect the integrity of the investigation".