American forces made their most devastating and deadly mistake since launching
their operation in Afghanistan when they killed or wounded hundreds of guests
celebrating a wedding yesterday.
Reports were contradictory but the US forces apparently launched the two-hour
assault involving a B-52 bomber and an AC-130 gunship after mistaking the wedding
guests' celebratory gunshots into the air early yesterday morning as hostile fire.
Estimates put the number of casualties at more than 120 though one unconfirmed
report said up to 250 had been killed.
Still wearing her party dress, Palako, 6, sleeps in a bed at the Mir Wais Hospital in Kandahar, Afghanistan where she is recovering from wounds she received, according to villagers, after U.S. helicopter gunships and jets attacked a house while a wedding was under way in the village of Kakarak, in the province of Uruzgan Monday, July 1, 2002. A villager who brought Palako said she was the only one in her family to survive the attack. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
The Pentagon later admitted a bomb had missed its target and claimed the bomber
and the gunship launched the attack after being the target of anti-aircraft fire.
This, however, is just the latest in a series of incidents in Afghanistan in which
civilians have been killed by "friendly fire".
With details of the incident far from clear, the Pentagon offered its condolences
to the families of those killed or wounded and promised a full inquiry. A spokesman
for US forces in Afghanistan, Colonel Roger King, said: "Right now there are a
lot of different opinions as to what happened. We understand there were some civilian
casualties during the operation. We do not yet know how many casualties."
The air assault was called in at about 2am local time by special forces soldiers
who said they had come under sustained attack. Locals said a gunship repeatedly
blasted a row of villages.
The air assault was followed, they said, by large numbers of American soldiers
and their Afghan allies, who sealed off the destroyed properties and searched
A Pentagon spokesman said an air reconnaissance patrol over the eastern Uruzgan
province reported coming under anti- aircraft fire. Other coalition aircraft fired
on the target. "At least one bomb was errant. We don't know where it fell," Lieutenant-Commander
Jeff Davis said.
One of those injured in the attack was Haji Mohammed Anwar, a friend of Afghanistan's
president, Hamid Karzai. Mr Karzai said: "We are aware of reports of civilian
casualties but don't know if casualties were caused [by] the bomb. We are trying
to organize aid and a commission has gone there headed by the Ministry of Frontiers
A local official in Uruzgan province said Afghans were firing weapons in the
air during the wedding, as is common in rural Afghanistan.
Many of the wounded were taken to a hospital in Kandahar. Most of the dead
were reported to be women and children. "We have many children who are injured
and who have no family," said Mohammed Nadira, a nurse. "Their families are gone.
The villagers brought these children and they have no parents. Everyone says their
parents are dead."
One survivor, Abdul Qayyum, said from his bed in the Mir Wais hospital that
American soldiers had come to the village demanding to know who fired on the helicopters.
"I said, 'I don't know' and one of the soldiers wanted to tie my hands but someone
said, 'He is an old man' and out of respect they didn't."
Another villager, Abdul Saboor, said: "There are no Taliban or al-Qa'ida or
Arabs here. These people were civilians, women and children."
The bombing was in the same province where US special forces killed 21 Afghans
on 23 January while looking for al-Qa'ida fighters. The Pentagon later acknowledged
that none of those killed was al-Qa'ida or Taliban.
© 2002 lndependent Digital (UK) Ltd