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Afghan Government Criticizes U.S. Over Air Raid That Killed Civilians

By Carlotta Gall


Afghanistan’s government condemned the U.S. military on Tuesday for a recent airstrike that killed as many as 17 civilians in the northeastern province of Kunar.

The government’s rare public criticism of its main international sponsor came as more details emerged about the airstrike and about heavy fighting in the province, where two Navy Seal commandos were killed and another is listed as missing.

President Hamid Karzai’s main spokesman, Jawed Ludin, said Tuesday at a news conference here that the president was saddened by news of the civilian deaths in Kunar and that under no circumstances could such a toll be justified.

“We know terrorists kill people, destroy mosques and schools,” Ludin said, “but we should be careful not to cause harm or to kill people. That is not acceptable.”

The deaths came Friday when an American B-52 bomber struck a compound with guided bombs, according to an American military spokesman in Kabul, Col. James Yonts. “It was the compound of a midlevel anti-coalition militia commander,” he said.

The military has admitted killing civilians in the bombing, including women and children, and expressed regret. Exact figures are not known yet, Yonts said. Local officials have said 17 people were killed, among them women and children. The colonel said American troops were in the area to investigate the bombing and assess the damage.

The compound was in the general area where a reconnaissance team of four Navy Seal commandos called for help during heavy fighting on June 28. An American Special Operations Chinook helicopter was sent in later that day to provide assistance, but it came under fire and crashed, killing all 16 aboard.

The crash happened just two or three miles from the suspected militia compound, Yonts said, suggesting that men from the site might have been involved in the fighting.

Heavy fighting has continued all week over a large part of Kunar province, and soldiers have kept up search and rescue operations for the missing sailor.

The bodies of two members of the reconnaissance team were found Monday, military officials said. “The two service members were taken to the U.S. military hospital at Bagram airfield, where they were pronounced dead,” a military statement issued in Kabul said. “Their names are being withheld until notification of their next of kin.”

One member of the reconnaissance team was found wounded and was rescued Saturday after days of evading insurgents in the area. He is now at Bagram, north of Kabul, and he has provided an account of the battle, Yonts said.

The colonel said the team was investigating reports of a Taliban presence in Kunar on June 28 when it ran into a large force of fighters, came under fire and called for support. The fight turned into a running battle, with members of the team trying to get out to report their discovery. But when the reinforcements arrived that afternoon, they were all killed when the Chinook crashed — the worst single American combat loss since the beginning of the war in 2001. Yonts said the fourth Navy Seal member remained unaccounted for. He said the latest intelligence reports seemed to contradict accounts by local Afghan officials who said Monday that the sailor was in the hands of villagers in the region. Troops are still trying to find him, the colonel said.