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Bombing Raid May Have Killed 48 Afghans: US General

6 July 2002

The US general leading the coalition campaign in Afghanistan said nearly 50 people may have been killed in a bombing raid on a wedding party, but that American investigators had been unable to determine how many people died.

Lieutenant-General Dan McNeill, commander of the coalition forces in Afghanistan, said that a more thorough investigation was needed into Sunday's bombing in central Uruzgan province as the US investigators were not shown any graves during a fact-finding mission.

"I believe there's 48 dead and 117 wounded," McNeill told a joint press conference with Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah while emphasizing that the figures were those of Afghan investigators.

"I believe that a more formal investigation will expose a lot more facts and expose a lot more of what occurred and why it occurred"

The joint Afghan-US fact-finding mission, which returned to Kabul on Saturday, was dispatched to Uruzgan province's Dehrawad district to probe the bombing which the US claims was prompted by hostile anti-aircraft guns in the area.

The United States has insisted that coalition aircraft attacked six targets near the village where pre-wedding celebrations were being held only after they were fired on.

McNeill maintained that American aircraft had come under direct fire but conceded that innocent civilians may have been killed.

"There is ample indication of direct fire against aircraft reported both from the ground and the air," the general said, confirming that a B-52 fighter and AC-130 gunship were involved in the incident.

"We have had in the process of this fact-finding some Afghan citizens saying there was fire from the ground although they offered they were celebratory types of fire.

"We do not attack our allies. Indeed, if innocent civilians died it had to be an accident. It is not our policy to target people."

Asked if the scale of the bombing was an overreaction to the fire from the ground, McNeill said that coalition forces always tried to respond with appropriate firepower.

"We always give due consideration to proportionality... That has been the consistent policy in this fight against terrorism."

McNeill's comments come after US President George W. Bush phoned his Afghan counterpart and close ally Hamid Karzai to express his condolences over the incident.

Bush "expressed his sympathies to the families there whose loved ones lost their lives," White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan told reporters Friday.

Abdullah said that the Afghan government would continue to back the US-led campaign against remaining al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters but added that the "legitimate concerns of the people must be addressed" over the incident.

"Support for the coalition is there. The question is not whether to continue against al-Qaeda or whether to support the coalition, the question is to find ways and means to prevent tragedies such as these in the campaign," he told reporters.

McNeill said that the results of a more thorough investigation would take weeks but denied that there would be any attempt to sweep the matter under the carpet.

"There's no doubt it will take a few weeks. I simply do not have a timeline right now," he said.

"There has been injury and loss of life to innocent civilians ... we will want to know why."

Abdullah also said he expected it would take some time before a full picture emerged.

Grieving residents in the Dehrawad area have accused the United States of attacking their villages on the basis of flimsy intelligence.

"All of us in this village have been supporting Hamid Karzai in the process against the Taliban," said Abdul Qadir in the village of Kakarak.

"And we're given this treatment in return: dead bodies."

Publish by Agence France Presse © 2002 AFP

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