Victoria Burnett / Financial Times – 2005-07-05 23:29:09
ISLALMABAD (July 5, 2005) — The Afghan government on Tuesday condemned the death of up to 17 civilians in US air raids on a mountainous eastern region, where the American military is searching for a special forces team that went missing a week ago.
Asadullah Wafa, governor of Kunar province, said that 17 civilians had been killed when a US aircraft bombed a compound in the village of Chechal. He said villagers had rushed to the compound after a first round of bombing and been caught by a second round of fire.
“The president is extremely saddened and distressed,” Jawed Ludin, chief of staff for Hamid Karzai, told a press briefing on Tuesday. “There is no way … the killing of civilians can be justified.”
In a statement, the US military said on Monday that an air strike in the eastern province of Kunar had killed an unknown number of “enemy terrorists and non-combatants” and that it “regretted the loss of innocent lives”.
The military said the attack had been carried out “with precision-guided munitions” on a compound that was “a known operating base for terrorist attacks in Kunar province as well as a base for a medium-level terrorist leader”.
A senior defence official told the Associated Press that two US Navy Seals who were part of the missing team had been found dead. One member has been rescued, and the hunt continued on Tuesday for a fourth.
A helicopter sent to help the special forces team crashed last week, killing all 16 on board and marking the single most deadly incident for the US military since it ousted the Taliban nearly four years ago.
Mr Ludin said the Afghan government and its US allies needed to “rethink some of our strategies” in the three-year old war against militants and al-Qaeda operatives.
Kabul has grown impatient with what many see as the US military’s heavy-handedness and is anxious not to further alienate the rural communities of the south and east, which have borne the brunt of anti-terrorism operations.
Mr Karzai recently demanded that all US military operations in Afghanistan receive Kabul’s clearance as part of a strategic alliance between the two countries, but has so far received no such commitment from Washington.
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