Afghanistan government denounces air attack

By Adam Brown, The Associated Press
Wednesday July 03, 2002

Demands U.S. review  

guides for launching raids 


KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — In an unprecedented statement, the Afghan government demanded Tuesday that the United States take “all necessary measures” to avoid civilian casualties following an air attack in which scores of villagers died. 

U.S. troops who inspected the hospital in Kandahar where some of the wounded had been taken came under fire late Tuesday as they were returning to the American base outside the city, U.S. military spokesman Col. Roger King said. One soldier was wounded in the foot, he added. 

In Kabul, the government said President Hamid Karzai “called officials and commanders of the United States forces to his office and strongly advised them of the grave concern and sorrow” over Monday’s attack in Uruzgan province, in which the Afghans say 40 civilians were killed and 100 were wounded. 

The statement said Karzai, who relied on U.S. support for his rise to power, insisted that coalition forces “take all necessary measures to ensure that military activities to capture terrorist groups do not harm innocent Afghan civilians.” 

Circumstances of the attack remain unclear; a joint U.S.-Afghan team was unable to reach the site Tuesday. 

U.S. officials insist American forces were attacking a legitimate target using a B-52 bomber and an AC-130 gunship. Pentagon officials said it appeared gunfire, rather than an errant bomb dropped by the United States, was responsible for the deaths. An AC-130 can fire Gatling guns, cannons and 105 mm howitzers. 

At the Pentagon, Gen. Peter Pace said Tuesday a U.S. AC-130 gunship in the vicinity fired on “six individual locations that were spread over many kilometers.” Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said it was too early to determine what happened. 

Despite the uncertainty, Afghan officials were convinced the United States was to blame for what they believe is the latest in a series of “friendly fire” mishaps. It was the first time Afghan authorities at the national level have issued such a strong statement after such an incident. 

Neither Afghan nor U.S. authorities have calculated Afghanistan’s civilian death toll in the war. Although estimates have placed the civilian dead in the thousands, a review earlier this year by The Associated Press suggests the toll may be in the mid-hundreds, a figure reached by examining hospital records, visiting bomb sites and interviewing witnesses and officials. 

In the capital, Foreign Minister Abdullah said coalition military operations against al-Qaida and Taliban should continue but the rules for launching attacks “should be reviewed to avoid such incidents.” 

Abdullah said four villages were attacked early Monday around the hamlet of Kakarak about 175 miles southwest of Kabul. He said 40 civilians were killed — including all 25 members of one family — and 100 people were injured, including celebrants at a wedding. 

“Strong measures have to be taken to avoid such further incidents,” he said. 

Karzai met in Kabul on Tuesday with the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. Dan K. McNeill. Afterward, McNeill said he and Karzai had differing accounts of what had happened, but he would not elaborate. 

“It is not part of the parameters of this coalition to attack innocents,” McNeill said at Bagram air base north of Kabul. 

In London, Amnesty International called on the United States to release the findings of any investigation, saying: “U.S.-led forces should take sufficient precautions to protect civilians in selecting military objectives.” 

The strong reaction by the Afghan government reflects the pressure on Karzai from his fellow Pashtuns who live in areas where U.S. military operations are continuing more than six months after the defeat of the Taliban regime. 

However, Abdullah, the foreign minister, said the government had “no doubts” that U.S. forces were “targeting terrorists” and had received information that al-Qaida forces were in the area. Afghan officials say Mullah Mohammed Omar, leader of the Taliban, may be hiding in the area. 

However, some survivors said they were looking to Karzai to prevent them from getting caught in the cross fire. 

“Karzai himself should take charge of the investigation,” said Shawali, whose wife Shabibi was wounded Monday. 

He spoke at this southern hospital where many of the wounded were brought for treatment. Five U.S. medical officers visited the hospital Tuesday to determine whether they could treat the casualties. After leaving the hospital, the Americans were fired on about 1 1/2 miles outside the city. 

Afghan military escorts returned fire but it was not known if the attackers suffered any casualties. 


EDITOR’S NOTE — Associated Press Writers Amir Shah and Dusan Stojanovic in Kabul and Regan Morris in Bagram contributed to this report.