Scores are killed by US bomb at Afghan wedding

By Andrew Buncombe in Washington and Kim Sengupta

02 July 2002

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.

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 organise 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.


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