Afghans say U.S. aircraft attacked wedding, killing 40

Monday, July 1, 2002

Associated Press WriterBAGRAM, Afghanistan (AP) -- U.S. aircraft attacked a village Monday while a wedding was under way, killing and injuring scores, witnesses and officials said. U.S. officials said an AC-130 gunship and a B-52 launched an attack after American forces came under fire.

Reports of the incident were conflicting.

Bismullah, communications chief of Uruzgan province where the attack occurred, said Afghans were firing weapons in the area during the wedding as is common in rural Afghanistan. He said U.S. planes attacked, killing about 40 people and injuring 70.

In the southern city of Kandahar, where many of the victims were taken, Afghans said the incident occurred in the village of Kakarak in Uruzgan province, where special forces and other coalition troops are searching for al-Qaida and Taliban fugitives. Kakarak is about 175 miles southwest of Kabul.

They said the attack began about 2 a.m. and lasted for about two hours. A nurse at the Kandahar hospital, Sher Mohammed, said he heard that about 120 people were killed.

At Bagram air base north of Kabul, U.S. military spokesman Col. Roger King said an AC-130 gunship, a B-52 bomber and other aircraft joined the attack after coalition ground forces came under fire.

"Right now there are a lot of different opinions as to what happened," King said. He said U.S. investigators would be sent to the area.

He said four people who were injured were treated by U.S. forces.

In Washington, a Pentagon spokesman said a coalition air reconnaissance patrol that was flying over Uruzgan province reported coming under anti-aircraft artillery fire. Other coalition aircraft opened fire on the target and at least one bomb went astray.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it was not immediately clear where the errant bomb hit. He said the Pentagon was aware of reports from Afghanistan of civilian casualties in Uruzgan province but it was unclear whether they were caused by the errant U.S. bomb or by falling anti-aircraft artillery.

The official had no other details, including the kind of U.S. aircraft that launched the errant bomb.

In Kandahar, one survivor, Abdul Qayyum, told reporters at the Mir Wais Hospital that the Americans came to the area 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 the respect they didn't," he said.

Afghans often fire weapons during weddings in celebration.

Hospital officials said a number of wounded were being brought to Kandahar. Most of the dead and injured were women and children, they said.

In Kandahar, a 6-year-old girl was brought to the hospital still wearing her party dress. She was injured, and villagers said all members of her family were killed.

Another injured child, 7-year-old Malika, lost her mother, father, one brother and one sister, according to neighbors who brought her to the hospital.

The injured also included Haji Mohammed Anwar, a friend of President Hamid Karzai and one of the first prominent local figures who rose up against the Taliban.

"We have many children who are injured and who have no family," nurse Mohammed Nadir said. "Their families are gone. The villagers brought these children and they have no parents. Everyone says that their parents are dead."

U.S. special forces killed 21 Afghans when they stormed buildings in Khas Uruzgan village on Jan. 23 looking for al-Qaida and Taliban forces. The Pentagon later acknowledged that none of those killed were al-Qaida or Taliban, but Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld cleared the Americans of any wrongdoing. He denied the raid was a mistake, saying the soldiers had been fired upon at one of the sites.

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