United States offers troops, aid to village

Monday, July 8, 2002

KAKARAK, Afghanistan -- The United States may station troops in the area where a recent American airstrike killed scores of civilians in a move to encourage local development and improve community relations, the commander of U.S. forces said Sunday.

Lt. Gen. Dan K. McNeill flew to this village in Uruzgan province less than a week after an attack that Afghans say killed 48 people, including 25 members of an extended family attending a wedding. Another 117 people were reportedly wounded in the attack last Monday.

The attack, the latest in a series of "friendly fire" mishaps, threatens to sour relations between the Americans and the Afghans and undermine the ongoing war on terrorism in this country.

McNeill's visit was clearly designed to patch up relations rather than get to the bottom of the Monday raid.

No mention was made of the airstrike.

Instead, the crewcut general sat cross-legged on the floor of a mud compound, sharing orange sodas with tribal elders and the Uruzgan governor and discussing ways U.S. forces could provide humanitarian assistance while at the same time fighting the Taliban and al-Qaida.

McNeill said U.S. forces could be stationed in the district so that international aid workers would feel safe enough to come and help the villagers rebuild their lives after two decades of war.

"They asked us if we would put some U.S. soldiers here that would stay here, and we're thinking that that's probably in our best interests," McNeill said. "This is an area in which we've worked often so we propose to put some U.S. forces here and then we will probably bring in teams that can help with the liaison to humanitarian assistance."

That's what the village elders wanted to hear.

"Our hospitals are not in good shape," elder Abdul Rahim said.

"Our schools are not in good shape. Everything is destroyed. Twenty-three years of war have destroyed everything here."

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