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Fighting terror

Bomb from U.S. warplane kills 11 Afghan civilians

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 10, 2003

KABUL, Afghanistan -- A U.S. warplane mistakenly killed 11 civilians, most of them women, when a 1,000-pound laser-guided bomb missed its intended target and landed on a house in eastern Afghanistan, the U.S. military said Wednesday.

For the first time since the U.S-led coalition opened its war in Afghanistan in October 2001, the military immediately claimed responsibility for killing civilians, calling the deaths a "tragic accident" and promising to investigate. It has acknowledged past incidents after investigations.

The 20 targeted attackers had fought a brief battle with Pakistani soldiers deployed on the Pakistan side of the border, said a U.S. military spokesman, Lt. Col. Douglas Lefforge. It was unclear whether they came from Pakistan.

The assailants 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 30mm 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 an injured survivor and took him and 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."

Afghan government ministers predicted the errant bomb, which fell as Taliban fighters are regrouping and launching attacks along the Pakistan border, will spawn new acts of terrorism aimed at destabilizing the U.S.-backed government of President Hamid Karzai.

"The fallout is going to be with us for a while," Interior Minister Ali A. Jalali said. "This is a war, however, a war on terrorism, and these things happen. The American response was very rapid because their mistake was very clear. They hit a family compound."

The civilians killed and the one who was wounded were members of one family, the governor of Paktika province said.

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, Afghan officials 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 bombmaking material.

Afghan army battles Taliban fighters, kills former minister

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Soldiers of the new Afghan national army battled resurgent Taliban fighters in eastern Afghanistan on Wednesday, killing a former Taliban minister in a four-hour gunbattle, state television reported.

The former minister of borders and tribal affairs, Ammanullah, was killed during a firefight in Orgun, 108 miles south of Kabul. Several other suspected Taliban fighters were killed, and four government soldiers were injured, state TV said. Ammanullah used only one name.

The Afghan national army, which is being trained by American and French troops, numbers about 3,000 men. The government of President Hamid Karzai wants to see the army grow to 70,000 and hopes it will replace tens of thousands of militiamen who are loyal to various warlords around the country.

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