Afghan officials - U.S. raid killed 11 villagers

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- A U.S. air raid in southern Afghanistan killed 11 villagers, including four children, Afghan officials said Monday. The U.S. military said it killed five militants in the weekend raid in insurgency-plagued Uruzgan province.

Sunday's incident came as American commanders and Afghan officials hunt for Taliban and al-Qaida suspects and try to improve security in the lawless south and east ahead of planned summer elections.

Their task was highlighted anew by a bold daylight raid on a remote military base that injured three American soldiers.

Abdul Rahman, chief of Char Chino district in Uruzgan, said the attack occurred around 9 p.m. Sunday in Saghatho, a village where he said U.S. forces hunting for insurgents had carried out searches and made several arrests.

He said the victims were outside a house and a helicopter was hovering nearby when "a big plane came and dropped bombs."

"They were simple villagers, they were not Taliban. I don't know why the U.S. bombed this home," he told an Associated Press reporter by telephone in the southern city of Kandahar.

The provincial governor, Jan Mohammed Khan, confirmed Rahman's account that four men, four children and three women were killed in the American attack.

He said U.S. authorities told him they found ammunition in a search of the village. During the search, "the people were afraid, they started running," Khan said.

Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty, a U.S. military spokesman, said a warplane killed five armed militants north of Deh Rawood, a town in Uruzgan where the American military has a base, but had no more information on the exact location or time, and no word of any civilian casualties. Saghatho is 25 miles north of Deh Rawood.

He said an AC-130 gunship attacked the men when they left a house frequented by insurgents.

"They were running away from a known bad-guy site," Hilferty told AP, insisting military planners "carefully weigh the use of deadly force."

Botched raids

Two botched raids last month sparked outrage and drew U.N. warnings that civilian casualties could drive Afghans into the arms of militants who oppose U.S.-backed President Hamid Karzai.

On Dec. 5, six children died when a wall fell on them during a nighttime assault on a complex in eastern Paktia province where the U.S. military seized hidden weapons caches.

The next day, nine children were found dead in a field after an attack by an A-10 jet on a village in neighboring Ghazni province.

Both attacks were aimed at wanted militants, but neither target was killed or detained.

American commanders had vowed to review their procedures after the raids.

The attack also brought to more than 50 the death toll in violence since the ratification of a post-Taliban constitution Jan. 4, most of them civilians.

Three U.S. soldiers were wounded Sunday when about 15 insurgents opened fire on the Deh Rawood base with rocket-propelled grenades and machine-guns.

One attacker was killed when American soldiers returned fire.

The soldiers, all injured by shrapnel, were in stable condition at the main U.S. military base at Bagram, north of Kabul.

Afghanistan's new constitution is supposed to help rebuild a state destroyed by nearly a quarter-century of war and bolster Karzai, the only declared candidate for the summer election.

But the United Nations has warned that it can only organize the vote if the security situation improves quickly.

Hilferty said Afghan authorities and the 11,000-strong U.S.-led coalition force, which is hurrying to open a string of new bases in troubled areas, had control of the country, but couldn't prevent insurgents from mounting "localized" attacks.

Sunday's daylight raid was "a sign of desperation," he said.

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