Airstrike Kills 90 in Afghan Wedding Party

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by
The Toronto Star

Airstrike Kills 90 in Afghan Wedding Party

by
Bill Graveland

Afghan children receive treatment at a local hospital in Kandahar. The governor of Kandahar province confirmed 90 people had died in the attack with another 30 injured. (AFP/Hamed Zalmy)

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - There are accusations that U.S. airstrikes struck a wedding party in southern Afghanistan Monday - killing scores of women and children and sending the bride and groom to hospital.

"When the fighting started the jets came and bombed," said Juma Khan, who helped bring his mother and nine other women and children to Kandahar's Mirwais Hospital.

Mohammad Nabi Khan lost two of his sons, ages 4 and 11, and his wife's brother was also listed among the dead.

"There's a lot of casualties," he said. "Most of them were women and children. Many are still buried under the rubble of homes."

"What kind of security are the foreign troops providing in Afghanistan?" he asked.

The governor of Kandahar province confirmed 90 people had died in the attack with another 30 injured.

"It was a mistake - they hit the wedding party and thought it was the Taliban," Gov. Rahmatullah Raufi told a late afternoon news conference.

The alleged airstrikes in the Shah Wali Kot district come only three months after the Afghan government found that a U.S. operation had killed some 90 civilians in western Afghanistan. A U.S. report said 33 civilians died in that attack.

A Taliban spokesman claimed that the airstrike had killed only one of its members and the rest of the victims were local villagers.

Canadian ground troops also operate in the region but a Canadian Forces spokesman could not say if they were involved.

President Hamid Karzai referred to the incident at a news conference held to congratulate Barack Obama on his U.S. presidential election victory.

Karzai said his first demand for the new president was to prevent civilian casualties in operations by foreign forces. He then said airstrikes had caused deaths in the Shah Wali Kot district of Kandahar province.

"As we speak, there are civilian casualties in Afghanistan," Karzai said.

U.S. Forces in Afghanistan and the Afghan Ministry of Interior issued a news release Wednesday to announce an investigation into the incident.

"The coalition and Afghan authorities are investigating reports of non-combatant casualties in the village of Wech Baghtu," said Cmdr. Jeff Bender, Deputy Public Affairs Officer, U.S. Forces Afghanistan. "Though facts are unclear at this point, we take very seriously our responsibility to protect the people of Afghanistan and to avoid circumstances where noncombatant civilians are placed at risk."

"If innocent people were killed in this operation, we apologize and express our condolences to the families and the people of Afghanistan," he said.

Military personnel have been dispatched to the area to begin the investigation.

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