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US: "It's Taliban's fault if we slaughter Afghan children"


As Afghan officials reported more civilian casualties from coalition airstrikes on Thursday, witnesses to a strike that apparently hit a wedding party on Monday said the civilian death toll could be more than double the 40 reported so far by Afghan officials... Referring to the deaths in both that strike and another reported on Thursday, in which Afghan officials said at least seven civilians were killed in the northwestern province of Badghis, Col. Greg Julian, a spokesman for United States forces, said, "We hope that itís not from our fire, but we suspect it may well have been." In a telephone interview, Colonel Julian accused Taliban forces of "immersing themselves" among civilians on Monday to deter American forces from using airstrikes...

[48566]



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US: "It's Taliban's fault if we slaughter Afghan children"

ABDUL WAHEED WAFA and SANGAR RAHIMI, NYTimes

afghanchildren7.jpg

U.S. Says Taliban Put Afghans in Line of Fire


KABUL, Afghanistan ó As Afghan officials reported more civilian casualties from coalition airstrikes on Thursday, witnesses to a strike that apparently hit a wedding party on Monday said the civilian death toll could be more than double the 40 reported so far by Afghan officials.

The United States military says it is conducting a joint investigation with the Afghan authorities into the strike on the wedding party, which took place in the Shah Wali Kot district of the southern province of Kandahar, where the Taliban insurgency has been strong.

On Thursday, American officials offered their first account of the events, saying that insurgents had prevented civilians from fleeing the area, trapping them in a firefight pitting coalition and Afghan Army forces against the militants who had ambushed those forces.

Referring to the deaths in both that strike and another reported on Thursday, in which Afghan officials said at least seven civilians were killed in the northwestern province of Badghis, Col. Greg Julian, a spokesman for United States forces, said, "We hope that itís not from our fire, but we suspect it may well have been."

In a telephone interview, Colonel Julian accused Taliban forces of "immersing themselves" among civilians on Monday to deter American forces from using airstrikes.

"Our close air support has been so devastating with the Taliban that they are trying to stop us using it" by provoking situations in which civilians are caught up in fighting and killed, he said.

People who said they saw the wedding party attack said the death toll among civilians was much higher than the official Afghan figure of 40. "I counted 90 dead bodies," said Abdul Rahim, 26, who said he was a survivor of the family that hosted the wedding party. "I saw them with my own eyes," he said in a telephone interview from Kandahar Province. "I discovered them under the debris."

He said he had lost 15 members of his family, including two brothers, 8 and 10 years old; several women; and other children. Mr. Rahim said he was in a neighboring village collecting more food for the wedding party when the airstrike happened.

He said Taliban insurgents had fired some shots from the top of a hill toward a convoy of American vehicles, and the Americans had returned fire. About an hour later, the Americans called in an airstrike, he said. Four houses, including the house where the wedding party was under way, were destroyed, Mr. Rahim said.

A tribal elder of Shah Wali Kot, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he feared for his safety, said he could not confirm the exact death toll, but he also insisted that the casualties were higher than the Afghan governmentís estimate of 40.

The United States military, in its statement, made no reference to airstrikes, saying only that militants had "ambushed a coalition security patrol using rifles, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars" and that Afghan and coalition forces had "responded with a variety of weapons fire."

"Civilians reportedly attempted to leave the area, but the insurgents forced them to remain as they continued to fire" on Afghan and coalition forces, the statement continued. It quoted a local police commander as saying that there had been reports that several civilians had been wounded while trying to leave the area.

The United States statement said nine insurgents had been killed, but did not refer to civilian deaths. But an earlier statement said that "if innocent people were killed in this operation, we apologize and express our condolences to the families and people of Afghanistan."

The American military used almost identical language in a statement on Thursday about the latest reported attack, on three villages in northwestern Afghanistan.

In that case, Abdullah Waqif, the district governor of the Ghormach area of Badghis Province, said that fighting and coalition airstrikes had killed 7 civilians and 15 Taliban fighters.

Qari Dawlat Khan, the provincial council leader in the area, said as many as 20 civilians might have been killed. One council member, Tawakal Khan, said he had lost two sons, 12 and 35 years old, and a grandson, 7.

Colonel Julian, the United States spokesman, said the attack early Thursday happened after a Taliban ambush, when two quick reaction units came to the assistance of the force under attack and called in airstrikes.

Alan Cowell contributed reporting from Paris.





:: Article nr. 48566 sent on 07-nov-2008 15:31 ECT

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Link: www.nytimes.com/2008/11/07/world/asia/07afghan.html?_r=1&oref=slogin&partner=rss
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