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Civilian catastrophe as US bombs Afghan wedding

- Witnesses say attack lasted 2 hours
- Pentagon: 'One bomb went astray'

The Guardian, July 1, 2002

a woman victim of Taliban and the US strikes

An Afghan man lifts the head of a child who along with 11 other civilians died during US air raids in Kabul on October 28, 2001, witnesses said a man and his seven children were killed when a bomb crashed through their home. (AP photo)
More photos

US helicopter gunships and jets today fired on an Afghan wedding, killing or injuring at least 250 civilians, witnesses and hospital officials said.

The attack occurred in the village of Kakarak in Uruzgan province, in the south of the country, where special forces and other coalition troops were searching for remaining al-Qaida and Taliban fighters.

One survivor, Abdul Qayyum, told reporters at a Kandahar hospital that the attack began shortly after midnight and continued for more than two hours until US special forces ground troops moved into the area.

"The Americans came and asked me 'who fired on the helicopters', and I said 'I don't know' and one of the soldiers wanted to tie my hands but someone said he is an old man and out of the respect they didn't," he said.

Afghans often fire weapons during weddings in celebration.

Hospital officials said a number of wounded were being brought to Kandahar. Most of the dead and injured were women and children.

"We have many children who are injured and who have no family," nurse Mohammed Nadir said. "Their families are gone. The villagers brought these children and they have no parents. Everyone says that their parents are dead."

The top US general leading the coalition campaign in Afghanistan, Lieutenant-General Dan McNeill, said a more thorough investigation was needed. "I believe there's 48 dead and 117 wounded," McNeill told a joint press conference with Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah while emphasising that the figures were those of Afghan investigators.

Dawn, July 7, 2002

Another nurse, Sher Mohammed, said he heard that scores were dead and injured.

At Bagram air base north of Kabul, the US military spokesman, Colonel Roger King, said an AC-130 gunship, a B-52 bomber and other aircraft joined the attack after coalition ground forces came under fire.

"Right now there are a lot of different opinions as to what happened," Col King said. He said US investigators would be sent to the area.

The UN report had put the death toll at 80, compared to 48 deaths cited by the Afghan government.

The Independent, July 31, 2002

In Washington, a Pentagon spokesman said a coalition air reconnaissance patrol that was flying over Uruzgan province reported coming under anti-aircraft artillery fire.

Other coalition aircraft opened fire on the target and at least one bomb went astray.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it was not immediately clear where the "errant" bomb hit. He said the Pentagon was aware of reports from Afghanistan of civilian casualties in Uruzgan province but it was unclear whether they were caused by the stray US bomb or by falling anti-aircraft artillery.

The Guardian, July 3, 2002:

"In one village, there was a wedding party... a whole family of 25 people. No single person was left alive. This is the extent of the damage," he said.

US forces killed 15 people in the same province in January in a firefight which they later admitted was "ill-advised".

'Cruel' Americans stormed homes, filmed naked women: villagers

ABC (Australian), July 7, 2002

US soldiers stormed the homes of Afghan villagers after they were bombed in a US air-raid last weekend and barred people from treating their wounded relatives, outraged Afghans say

"First they bombed the womenfolk, killing them like animals, then they stormed into the houses and tied the hands of men and women," Mohammad Anwar said at Kakrakai village in central Uruzgan province's Dehrawad district.

"It was cruelty - after bombing the area, the US forces rushed to that house, cordoned it off and refused to let the people help the victims or take them away for treatment," he said.

Anwar was pointing to the home of his brother Sharif, who was hosting a huge pre-wedding party for his son on the night of June 30 when US airships strafed Karkrakai and surrounding villages.

Sharif, who risked the wrath of the Taliban to keep Afghan President Hamid Karzai alive during his daring mission into then-Taliban-ruled central Afghanistan last October, was killed.

So were Anwar's wife, Sharif's wife and four children.

The groom-to-be son survived because he was confined to a separate house as local wedding tradition decrees.

The US-led coalition commander in Afghanistan, Lieutenant General Dan McNeil, announced that according to Afghan officials, 48 people had been killed.

The slaughter of at least 45 civilians by US warplanes in a raid in central Uruzgan province on Monday has prompted the first anti-US demonstration in Kabul. Around 200 Afghans, many of them women clad in traditional burqas, marched through the street bringing mid-morning traffic to a halt on Wednesday, to protest against the rising toll of civilian casualties. Most of the dead and injured in the latest incident were women and young children who were guests at a wedding celebration in the small village of Kakarak.

The protest is just the tip of the iceberg. Ongoing US bombing and search-and-destroy operations in rural towns and villages along with a contemptuous indifference to the rising toll of civilian casualties has generated widespread hostility, anger and opposition to the American presence.

Uruzgan provincial governor Jan Mohammed Khan, who was himself appointed by the US-backed regime in Kabul, demanded that the US military hand over the “spies” who had provided the information that led to the air attack on Kakarak. “If Americans don’t stop killing civilians, there will be a holy war against them in my province... This has to stop, or people will fight Americans just like they did Russians [in the 1980s].

Another Kabul resident, Sahibad, who lost two of his own children during a US bombing raid in October told a reporter for the EurasiaNet website: “When I heard about the bombing in Uruzgan, I thought the day I lost my kids had returned. My heart bleeds for the families who now have to dig through the rubble for their loved ones, like I did. The people that are supposed to be helping us are hurting us. We don’t want to start hating Americans, but if they keep making mistakes like this, we have no choice... Why do they use bombs, it is such an inaccurate way of getting the enemy. One slip of the hand and you could kill hundreds or thousands of people.”

Ahmed Jawad, a doctor at Mirwais Hospital, told the International Herald Tribune: “We heard that this is a computerised war, and we have seen on television that the American warplanes can pick out objects as close as four millimetres from the ground. How can they mistake a wedding party for an attack?”

Amillah, 35, added: “If there were Taliban or Arabs in the area, they would never have let us make such a wedding party. They did not allow people to make music or beat drums; they said it was not Islamic.” A farmer, Abdul Bari, 30, who was comforting his heavily-bandaged, six-year-old nephew, Ghulam, said: “Fifteen people from my home are dead. My wife, my brother, everyone is dead. We don’t know why the Americans hate us.” Doctors at the Mirwais hospital explained that Ghulam, who lost both his parents in the raid, almost died of his injuries as well. Ma’amoor Abdul Qayyum, a retired local official, said he saw his 11-year-old son die in front of him. “The Americans have destroyed us. We have neither seen Al Qaeda nor Taliban but they bombed us. What did we do wrong?”

World Socialist Web Site, July 6, 2002

Anwar, a senior Karzai-appointed military commander in neighbouring Kandahar province, says the toll would have been less if the troops storming his brother's home had allowed relatives to tend to the victims.

"Had people been allowed to take these injured to the hospital more and more lives would have been saved," he said as he received bereaved villagers in the local mosque.

"Many of the injured with broken arms and broken legs died due to loss of blood.

"Until seven or eight o'clock in the morning the Americans did not allow anyone to help the injured and to cover the bodies.

"Most of their clothes had been burnt off [in the attack].

"They kept filming and photographing the naked women," he said.

Anwar says he had no answers for the questions of his stunned people.

"The people are asking, 'is the result of the support we have extended to the Americans? This is humiliation. Our women were disgraced'," he said.

The United States, in Afghanistan seeking remnants of the former hardline Islamic Taliban regime and its Al Qaeda allies has insisted that coalition aircraft had attacked only after they were fired on.

It began air strikes against Al Qaeda and the now-ousted Taliban in October last year, after the September 11 terror attacks in the United States blamed on Al Qaeda.

Anti-American rage gripped the nearby villages of Shatoghai, Siasung and Mazar, also hit in the US bombardment.

"One day God will give us the strength and we will fight them," Haji Wali said, whose home in Shatoghai was attacked.

"Even during the Russian's occupation (1979-1989) there was never such a sustained bombing of the area.

"We are weak and they are oppressing us," he said.

He trashed attempts at compensation, saying Coalition forces had offered the villagers' tents.

"They want to please us by providing us with four tents," Wali said. "Is two or four tents worth the price of our lives?"

"Would the Americans forgive us if we killed two Americans and give them two tents in return?

"The Taliban used to lock us in jail but they would not bomb us and dishonour our women," he said.

Jamal Khatun lost her son, 13, and grandsons Rehmat and Nabi, both four, in the strike on Siasung village.

"We were asleep on the verandah when the bombs hit, we had no idea what was happening," she said as she clutched the blood-soaked clothes of her dead son and grandchildren.

Rozi Khan says a child was killed and eight people injured in her village of Mazar.

"We migrated here to escape drought, why was our house targeted?" Khan said.

UN keeps damning report on Afghan massacre secret

The Independent, July 31, 2002
By David Usborne in New York

The United Nations went into abrupt reverse yesterday and said it no longer intended to release a report compiled by a team of UN officials who visited the site where a US warplane attacked a wedding party in Afghanistan on 1 July.

The change of tack by the UN was apparently the result of pressure from within its own hierarchy, particularly in Afghanistan itself, and from the US not to release the report that allegedly contradicts claims made by the US about the circumstances of the attack.

The controversy first erupted on Monday when it emerged that a first draft of the report written by the UN fact-finding team featured a number of potentially embarrassing allegations. They included the charge that the US had under-reported the numbers of people who had died and US soldiers had removed evidence from the site, suggesting a cover-up.

A UN spokesman said on Monday that a final draft would be made public within 24 hours. That had all changed by yesterday morning, however. Instead, a statement from the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said the report would remain an internal document and would be shown only to the Afghan and American governments.

The row came as Kabul released fresh details of a bombing attack that was foiled when a man driving a car loaded with explosives was arrested in the capital on Monday. Officials said the man was a foreigner, which often means Arab or Pakistani in local parlance. By all accounts, the plot, if successful, could have been devastatingly effective. The plotter had allegedly planned to detonate himself and the car in an attack either on the president, Hamid Karzai, his top officials or on foreign targets such as the US embassy or the headquarters of the International Security Assistance Force.

The Toyota was packed with large quantities of TNT and C4 explosives that could have caused widespread damage.

It would have been detonated by wires connected to two extra car batteries. "He mentioned Karzai as one of his natural targets," Amruallah Salhi, an Afghan security official, said of the suspect. "What we have gathered indicates he was a suicide bomber."

Though it was thwarted, the plot highlights the vulnerability of the new Afghan leadership.

In the statement, the UN Assistance Mission said: "The United Nations was not involved in either an inquiry or an investigation but simply responding to humanitarian needs as it does everywhere in the world." Sources confirmed the UN report had put the death toll at 80, compared to 48 deaths cited by the Afghan government. The Pentagon said it found only five graves there.

* The White House has set up an office devoted to improving the United States' image. The Office on Global Communications was unveiled yesterday just as a New York-based institute, the Council on Foreign Relations, urged Mr Bush to fix "America's shaky image abroad" before negative sentiment undercuts US interests.

Find out more facts and figures on the US war in Afghanistan on the
web site of Professor Marc W. Herold

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