January 20, 2004
Eleven civilians, including four children and three women, were killed in a botched US bombing raid in southern Afghanistan, local officials said yesterday, in the third such instance of misdirected firepower in the past six weeks.
The US military disputed the toll, saying that five militants had been killed in the assault.
An American helicopter targeted a home in a hilltop village in the former Taliban bastion of Uruzgan province, south-west of Kabul, late on Sunday, after troops had combed the area looking for Taliban fighters, who are trying to mount a resurgence in the south and east.
"Of course, all those who got killed were civilians," said Abdur Rahman, district chief of Charcheno, where the attack happened. "They were simple villagers, they were not Taliban. I don't know why the US bombed this home."
The governor of Uruzgan, Jan Mohammed Khan, suggested the raid may have been ordered after ammunition was found in the village.
But US lieutenant-colonel Bryan Hilferty said: "Coalition forces engaged from the air and killed five armed anti-coalition militia members. The coalition does have stringent rules of engagement and we carefully weigh the use of deadly force."
He said the raid followed an incident early on Sunday when three US troops were wounded at a base by a rifle and rocket-propelled grenade attack by 15 fighters.
If confirmed, the botched raid would be the third occasion in recent weeks that American forces have been blamed for killing children, as they seek to take the fight to Islamic insurgents.
On December 5, six children died during a night assault in eastern Paktia province, where the US military seized hidden weapons. The next day, nine children were found dead in a field after an A-10 plane attacked a village in neighbouring Ghazni province. Both attacks were aimed at wanted militants, although none were among those killed.
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004