Karzai says air strike in Afghanistan killed 40
msnbc.com news services / November 5, 2008
KABUL – Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai said on Wednesday that 40 people were killed and 28 wounded in an air strike this week in the southern Taliban heartland of Kandahar province.
Earlier on Wednesday, the Afghan president demanded that president-elect Barack Obama put an end to civilian casualties in his country.
A resident of the remote village of Wech Baghtu said American forces had given them permission to bury the dead, which he said included 23 children and 10 women. A U.S. spokesman added that “if innocent people were killed in this operation, we apologize and express our condolences.”
The bombing Monday afternoon in the southern province destroyed an Afghan housing complex where women and children had gathered to celebrate, villagers said. Body parts littered the wreckage and nearby farm animals lay dead.
Villager Abdul Jalil, a 37-year-old grape farmer whose niece was getting married, told an Associated Press reporter at the scene of the bombing that U.S. troops and Taliban fighters had been fighting about a half mile from his home.
Fighter aircraft destroyed his compound and killed 37 people, including 23 children, 10 women and four men, Jalil said. The strike happened in a remote and dangerous part of Kandahar province.
‘Put an end to civilian casualties’
Karzai said he hopes the election will “bring peace to Afghanistan, life to Afghanistan and prosperity to the Afghan people and the rest of the world.” He applauded America for its “courage” in electing Obama. But he also used the occasion to press Obama to prevent civilians casualties in operations by foreign forces, saying airstrikes had killed people in the Shah Wali Kot district of Kandahar province.
“Our demand is that there will be no civilian casualties in Afghanistan. We cannot win the fight against terrorism with airstrikes,” Karzai said. “This is my first demand of the new president of the United States – to put an end to civilian casualties.”
The alleged airstrikes come only three months after the Afghan government found that a U.S. operation killed some 90 civilians in western Afghanistan. After initially denying any civilians had died in that attack, a U.S. report ultimately concluded that 33 civilians were killed.
Following that operation, Karzai said relations between Afghanistan and the United States were seriously damaged.
‘You are sheltering the Taliban’
Jalil said American forces came into his village late Monday night or Tuesday morning – after the bombing run – and searched the villagers and detained some of the men. Jalil said he told the Americans that they could search his vineyards and his home but that they wouldn’t find any militants.
“The Americans came and told us, ‘You are sheltering the Taliban,’ and I told the Americans ‘Come inside and see for yourself, you are killing women and children,'” Jalil said. “After they saw that all the dead were civilians, they gave us permission to bury the bodies.”
The U.S. military said it had sent personnel to the site to assess the situation and take appropriate action.
“Though facts are unclear at this point, we take very seriously our responsibility to protect the people of Afghanistan and to avoid circumstances where noncombatant civilians are placed at risk,” Cmdr. Jeff Bender said in a statement. “If innocent people were killed in this operation, we apologize and express our condolences to the families and the people of Afghanistan.”