NBC, September 3, 2008

A Heartbroken Groom in Nangarhar

"I saw my bride and my family members; I saw the pieces of their bodies scattered all over the place."

"I thought American forces were in Afghanistan for our security," said Attiqullah, his voice trembling. "I could never have imagined that they would bomb my wedding party. They killed my entire family. I will never forgive them."

Attiqullah the groom
Attiqullah with his father.

I sat with Attiqullah, who gives his age as around 15, near the graves where his family members are buried. He described what happened the day of July 6, 2008 -- his wedding day -- when his bride, two of his brothers and a sister, along with 45 relatives, were killed by a U.S. air strike on the remote village of Oghaza, in Nangarhar Province in eastern Afghanistan.

Attiqullah’s father had sent the entire family to the bride’s house the night before the wedding ceremony, as per Afghan custom. "The women were playing musical instruments and everyone was singing and dancing," Attiqullah said. "Then, according to our tradition, the entire groom’s family must escort the bride from her house to meet the groom. Early the next morning everyone set out on the way to my house, walking in a kind of procession through a mountain pass. And then, the unimaginable happened."

"It was 6:30 in the morning and there were 300 of my relatives and friends gathered at my house waiting for the bride to arrive," he said. Attiqullah, by now his eyes brimming with tears, was barely audible and wanted to appear strong in front of me. He was fighting hard not to lose control as he told his story so he avoided my eyes and drew circles in the mud as he answered my questions.

"I was watching the cooks cut the meats, prepare the potatoes, and wash the rice," he continued. "This was all for me and I felt so happy and proud. I was day-dreaming of welcoming my bride, wondering how she would feel as she entered my house and also how I would feel. I was counting the minutes to her arrival."

"Then there was a loud explosion on the top of the mountain," Attiqullah, crying, explained what happened. "I saw balls of fire explode in the sky, the mountain seemed to be burning. I ran from the house and started climbing. I ran faster and faster. I could hear the cries of children and women. And then the second explosion."

Attiqullah’s house, a simple structure of mud, rock and wood, is built along the side of the mountain. It took him a half hour to run up the mountain, his uncle running with him.

"And then there was a third explosion," he said.

"Oh my God!" Attiqullah was now sobbing uncontrollably. " I saw my bride and my family members; I saw the pieces of their bodies scattered all over the place."

The U.S. military is investigating the incident and said in a statement: "Any loss of innocent life is tragic."

"I assure you we do not target civilians and that our forces go to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties," U.S. military spokesman, 1st Lieutenant Nathan Perry said.

An investigation by the Afghan government concluded that 52 people died in that air attack - 45 women and children were killed. Afghan President Hamid Karzai ordered his government to pay $2,000 for each person killed and $1,000 to each injured person.

Attiqullah told me there was no offer of assistance to the family from coalition forces.

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