Associated Press WriterKANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) -- U.S. planes bombed a village in central Afghanistan on Monday after the U.S. military said American forces came under fire. Afghans said villagers were celebrating a wedding and that scores were killed and injured, including many women and children.
Reports of the incident were conflicting. The Pentagon insisted the aircraft attacked a legitimate hostile target but suggested an errant bomb may have caused civilian casualties.
At Bagram air base, 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.
"We understand that there were some civilian casualties in the operation, but we do not yet know how many casualties or how they occurred," King said. "The United States expresses its deepest sympathies to those who have lost their loved ones."
He said at least four of the injured were treated by U.S. forces.
Bismullah, communications chief of Uruzgan province, said Afghans in the village of Kakarak, about 175 miles southwest of Kabul, were firing weapons in the air during the wedding as is common in rural Afghanistan when U.S. planes attacked, killing about 40 people and injuring 70.
Noor Mohammed, leader of neighboring Gujran district, reported the same casualty figures and said Afghans were "upset because innocent people have died."
In the southern city of Kandahar, where many of the victims were taken, Afghans 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.
Hospital officials said most of the dead and injured were women and children. One of the injured, a 6-year-old girl named Paliko, was brought to the hospital still wearing her party dress. Villagers said all members of her family were killed.
Another injured child, 7-year-old Malika, lost her mother, father, a brother and a sister, according to neighbors who brought her to the hospital.
"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."
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.
Meanwhile, a Pentagon official said a B-52 was on a strike mission against a cave complex in Uruzgan -- an event that appeared unrelated to the reported anti-aircraft artillery fire. The B-52 may have dropped a bomb that went astray, he said.
In Kandahar, one survivor, Abdul Qayyum, told reporters at the Mir Wais Hospital that after the attack, 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.
The injured also included Haji Mohammed Anwar, who Afghans said was a friend of President Hamid Karzai and one of the first prominent local figures who rose up against the former Taliban regime.
The bombing occurred in the same province where 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.
In an interview last week with The Associated Press, Karzai expressed concern that innocent Afghan civilians are being caught in the cross fire in the war on terrorism.
"I will definitely want the Afghan civilians, the Afghan villages to be immune from accidental damage," Karzai said. "To be sure that they do not receive accidental firing at them. To make sure that our women and children and villages don't suffer."
In areas of eastern and southern Afghanistan, where U.S. special forces and their coalition allies have focused their war against fugitive al-Qaida and Taliban elements, some villagers say they are being wrongly targeted for arrest or harassment as al-Qaida and Taliban suspects.