Eleven Afghan civilians killed in accidental U.S. bombing
Thursday, April 10, 2003
BAGRAM, Afghanistan -- A U.S. warplane called in to support allied Afghans under fire mistakenly bombed a house Wednesday, killing 11 civilians. It was the worst friendly-fire incident in Afghanistan in nine months.
Afghan authorities condemned the bombing, and the U.S. military said it was not clear why the bomb missed its target: a group of assailants attacking a checkpoint.
The 20 attackers earlier fought a brief battle with Pakistani soldiers deployed on the Pakistan side of the border, U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Douglas Lefforge said. It was unclear whether they came from Pakistan.
The assailants then headed toward the Afghan checkpoint just east of Shkin, 135 miles south of Kabul, and opened fire, wounding four Afghan soldiers.
Americans sent four armored Humvees with at least 16 U.S. soldiers to the scene and called in two Harrier attack jets, Lefforge said.
The attackers fled, apparently splitting into two groups. One of the planes fired a 30 mm cannon and dropped a 1,000-pound laser-guided bomb that crashed into the house.
"Coalition forces never intentionally target civilian locations," Lefforge said. "The bomb missed the intended target and landed on the house."
Whether "it was a technical malfunction or bad coordinates or anything like that, we just simply don't know yet," Lefforge said.
American troops arriving at the bomb site found one injured survivor and took him and the four wounded Afghan soldiers to a U.S. base near the eastern town of Khost. No U.S. soldiers were injured.
"To the families of the Afghan citizens accidentally killed in a bombing in Afghanistan ... we send our sincere condolences," Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a Pentagon briefing Wednesday. "We sincerely regret the incident."
Mohammed Ali Jalali, the governor of eastern Paktika province where Shkin is located, condemned the killings and said he discussed the incident with U.S. officials.
"They were neither al-Qaida nor Taliban," Jalali told The Associated Press by telephone. "They were only innocent civilians."
The last time American forces caused major civilian casualties was July 1, when 48 civilians were killed and 117 more were wounded by fire from an Air Force AC-130 gunship that attacked several villages in Afghanistan's Uruzgan province, according to Afghan officials.
Across the border in the Pakistani town of Angoor Adda, shopkeeper Muhammad Ramzan said witnesses told him Wednesday's victims mostly were women and children of the Ahmedzai tribe.
"The locals are very upset with this bombing because these people had nothing to do with the attack on allied forces," Ramzan said.
About 11,500 coalition troops -- 8,500 of them American -- are in Afghanistan hunting rebel fighters from the former Taliban regime, al-Qaida and their allies.
About 100 American soldiers are based at Shkin, an area that has been the target of several rocket attacks and ambushes in recent weeks.
Afghan authorities say Taliban remnants are reorganizing, especially in southern Afghanistan, in efforts to destabilize the fledgling government of U.S.-backed President Hamid Karzai.
Lefforge said 500 U.S. troops launched a fresh operation dubbed Resolute Strike in the southern province of Helmand on Tuesday.
Lefforge said 41 people were detained and questioned as part of the sweep, but 34 were released. Coalition forces also seized a weapons cache including C-4 explosives and bomb-making material.