- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 2, 2002

Scores of Afghan civilians were killed or wounded during U.S. air strikes north of the city of Kandahar government official said yesterday.
Local Aghans said U.S. munitions mistakenly hit a wedding party at about 1 a.m yesterday in the village of Kakrakai in southern Afghanistan. They reported as many as 40 killed and 100 wounded.
U.S. military spokesmen said one bomb went astray when coalition aircraft attacked an anti-aircraft artillery battery in Uruzgan province that had fired on a coalition air patrol. "It's unknown where that bomb fell," said Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman.
U.S. Central Command, which runs the war in Afghanistan, immediately dispatched a fact-finding team to the area. The team includes media representatives, as well as officials from the U.S. military, U.S. Embassy and Afghan government.
"A coalition operation in the Uruzgan Province, north of Kandahar, was conducted yesterday and today that may have resulted in civilian casualties," Central Command said in a brief statement. "Close air support from U.S. Air Force B-52 and AC-130 aircraft struck several ground targets including anti-aircraft artillery sites that were engaging the aircraft."
Officials said special operations troops on the ground had encountered machine-gun fire during the mission. Commandos are hunting down al Qaeda and hard-core Taliban fighters in the area. The United States believes that ousted Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar may be hiding in Uruzgan.
In Kabul, Afghan leader Hamid Karzai went on state radio to announce he had appointed a special four-person commission to investigate.
"We have learned with regret that a number of our companions have been martyred and injured as a result of accidental bombing in Dehrawad district," Mr. Karzai said on Radio Afghanistan.
If the casualty count is accurate, the incident would be the worst case of mistaken killings since the U.S.-led war began Oct. 7 against fighters loyal to Osama bin Laden and his terror organization.
Most accidental bombings came in the thick fog of continuing combat in the war's first six months. The strike yesterday happened when hostilities had slowed to an occasional skirmish, a time when coalition pilots could presumably take more time to verify targets. Such a major mistake could jolt the support most Afghans appear to give the waging within their borders of a long war to eradicate al Qaeda.
Local Afghans told the BBC that wedding celebrants were firing guns in the air, as is a Pashtun custom. They suggested that American pilots mistook small-arms fire for anti-aircraft volleys.
"There was no one to help last night," Abdul Saboor told the British news agency. "We managed to transfer some of the wounded to Kandahar in the morning. Some of the foreigners' choppers also came to help. There are no Taliban or al Qaeda or Arabs here. These people were all civilians, women and children."
Agence France-Presse quoted an Afghan official as saying, "It happened around midnight. It was a wedding party in which some people were firing in jubilation and the Americans misunderstood and bombarded the place."
Army Col. Roger King, spokesman for U.S. Afghan headquarters at Bagram air base, said, "We understand there were some civilian casualties during the operation. We do not yet know how many casualties or how it occurred. The U.S. government extends its deepest sympathies to those who may have lost loved ones as a result of this incident and to those who may have suffered any injuries."
Local Afghans have reported a series of mistaken bombings during the nine-month campaign. But Central Command has verified only a few of them. U.S. officials say that in some cases Afghans fabricate incidents, either as a way to extract monetary damages or to discredit the coalition efforts to oust the Taliban and set up a democratic government.
For example, a CIA-operated Predator drone killed a suspected al Qaeda figure with a Hellfire missile in February. Locals around the town of Khost in eastern Afghanistan said two innocent scavengers died, but CIA and Pentagon officials vehemently maintain that the rocket eliminated a senior al Qaeda member.

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