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Scores are Killed by US Bomb at Afghan Wedding
Published on Tuesday, July 2, 2002 in the lndependent/UK
Scores are Killed by US Bomb at Afghan Wedding
by Andrew Buncombe in Washington and Kim Sengupta

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.

Palako in Her Party Dress
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)
Estimates put the number of casualties at more than 120 though one unconfirmed report said up to 250 had been killed.

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 surrounding areas.

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 Affairs."

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


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