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US Acknowledges Missile Strike Killed 37 Afghan Civilians


November 9, 2008
M. Karim Faiez and Laura King / The Los Angeles Times & Al Jazeera

The US military, while not directly admitting that it killed scores of women and children, when it bombed a wedding party near Kandahar, has quietly paid compensation to the families of the dead and injured. The response came three days after the US attack. Afghans were infuriated when the Americans took weeks to investigate claims by the Afghan government and the UN that 90 people, most of them women and children, were killed in an August 22 airstrike in the western province of Herat.

http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/asection/la-fg-afghan9-2008nov09,0,4542884.story

US Acknowledges 37 Afghan Civilians Killed in Fighting Last Week
M. Karim Faiez and Laura King / The Los Angeles Times

KABUL Afghanistan and ISTANBUL, Turkey — Although the American statement stopped short of taking direct blame for civilian casualties in a southern province that is one of the country's most active battlefields, it demonstrated an unusually swift public response to claims of mass casualties made by Afghan officials.

The finding came just three days after provincial officials and the Afghan president's office asserted that three dozen people had died in an errant US airstrike on a wedding party in a village outside the city of Kandahar.

The city, the main population center in Afghanistan's south, was the onetime stronghold of the Taliban. Militants and coalition forces clash almost daily in surrounding Kandahar province, which is a center of Afghanistan's drug trade.

The new head of the US Central Command, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, responsible for American forces across the Middle East, was in Afghanistan last week to look at ways to revamp the Western military strategy in the wake of a dramatic resurgence by Taliban-led militants over the last two years. During his visit, Afghan defense officials told him that civilian casualties were sharply eroding public support for the presence of foreign forces.

The deaths and injuries of noncombatants also have become an extremely sensitive issue between the US-backed government of President Hamid Karzai and Western forces.

On Wednesday, hours after Sen. Barack Obama won the US presidential election, Karzai used what was to have been a congratulatory news conference to plead with the president-elect for an end to civilian fatalities.

The investigation of the deaths in Wech Bagtu village was carried out by Afghan officials, the Afghan army and the US-led coalition, the American military said in the statement. That is a departure from the days when US officials were sometimes reluctant to involve Afghan authorities in such inquiries, though such cooperation has become more common.

In releasing the findings, the US military emphasized that during the battle Monday militants used villagers' homes for cover. "Village elders told the joint investigation team that insurgentswho were not from their village . . . fired at [Afghan] and coalition forces," the statement said. Residents were prevented from leaving the area during the battle, it said.

The military did not directly acknowledge that it inadvertently bombed the wedding party, but said coalition forces used "close air support to suppress enemy fire." Compensation was paid to the families of the dead and injured, the military said without providing details.

The prompt investigation and findings stood in sharp contrast to some recent high-profile cases involving civilian casualties. Afghans were infuriated when the Americans took weeks to investigate claims by the Afghan government and the United Nations that 90 people, most of them women and children, were killed in an Aug. 22 airstrike in the western province of Herat.

After initially saying that five civilians were killed, a US investigation concluded that 33 civilians had died. But that finding was made six weeks after the airstrike, and the high-level investigation was launched only after videos surfaced that appeared to show large numbers of civilian dead.

"Civilians getting caught in the crossfire is the worst possible thing that could happen," US Army Col. Gregory Julian said of last week's deaths in Kandahar. "We regret this tragic loss of innocent lives."

Afghan weddings are traditionally large, drawn-out affairs, and wedding parties several times have been the target of errant airstrikes, in part because from the air the gatherings can appear similar to concentrations of Taliban fighters.

In Afghanistan's clan-based society, civilian deaths can cause otherwise peaceable villagers to declare a vendetta against those they consider responsible for killing their kin -- in many cases, Western forces.

More than 1,200 civilians have been killed this year. A majority of the deaths were caused by insurgent attacks such as suicide bombings, but human rights groups and Afghan officials say hundreds have died at the hands of foreign forces during fighting with the Taliban and other militant groups.

Faiez is a special correspondent and King is a Times staff writer.

laura.king@latimes.com

Copyright 2008 Los Angeles Times



US Missiles Hit Pakistan Village
Al Jazeera

ISLAMABAD (November 7, 2008) — A suspected US drone has launched a missile strike into northwest Pakistan, reportedly killing at least 10 people. The attack on Friday targeted a town in North Waziristan, a tribal region on the Afghan border, security officials said.

"It happened close to the border," a Pakistani military officer said. "We have reports of 10 dead but it will take time to get more information."

The North Waziristan region is a reputed stronghold of the Taliban and al-Qaeda linked fighters. Other Pakistani officials told the AFP news agency that up to 14 fighters were killed when the missile strike destroyed an al-Qaeda training camp.

Four missiles are thought to have been fired at the camp, in Kum Sham village, some 35km south of Miranshah in North Waziristan. Security sources said the village is dominated by Wazir tribes and is near the border with South Waziristan, another hub of Taliban and Al-Qaeda operatives. "Between 11 to 14 militants, mainly foreigners, were killed in the strike," a senior military official said.

It was not immediately clear if there were any high-value targets among those killed, sources said. An intelligence official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said: "The strike successfully destroyed the camp."

Al Jazeera's Kamal Hyder, speaking from the Pakistani capital Islamabad, said: "At the moment we are being told by sources in the area that the attack took place in the Razmak village [of North Waziristan].

"We are told that up to 17 people were also wounded in this attack. Just a few days ago we were in this region. And we were able to observe that even at nighttime the drones have been flying over this area.

"It has also causing considerable anger in that region because the Pakistani military forces have been deployed in very large numbers along this border and every time there is a strike deep into Pakistan it creates more public resentment. Not just against the Americans but also the local forces which are not able to stop these attacks.

"In spite of opposition by the Pakistani government, the Americans have been buzzing the Pakistani tribal territories ... and they have been picking out targets with impunity."

Sovereignty Violated
At least 18 such attacks by unmanned US aircraft have occured since September. However, this is the first since General David Petraeus, the US Central Command chief, took charge of the war in Afghanistan.

Petraeus told The Associated Press in an interview in Afghanistan on Thursday that the strikes had killed three "extremist leaders" in recent months. Pakistan has objected to the attacks as a violation of its sovereignty.

The Pakistan army is embroiled in an offensive against fighters in Bajaur, another part of the border region, and is trying to persuade local tribes to join the fight. Pakistani helicopters and jets killed 17 suspected fighters and wounded 10 others in Bajaur late on Thursday, Jamil Khan, the number two government representative in the semi-autonomous area, said.

Hours earlier, two suicide attacks targeting pro-government tribesmen and security forces killed at least 19 people and wounded dozens more. One of them struck in Bajaur, killing 17 pro-government Salarzai tribesmen who had formed a militia to combat the Pakistani Taliban. Forty other people were hurt, officials said.

In the nearby Swat walley, a suicide car bomber rammed his vehicle into a checkpoint near a police compound, killing at least two paramilitary troops and wounding 20 other people, officials said.

Al Jazeera and agencies


Comments
• Ammar Khalid
United Kingdom 07/11/2008
When the Pakistani government says "It objects to the attacks as a violation of its sovereignty.", it feels like they have recorded a tape to issue this heartless and spiritless statement. This is a further shame for Pakistani government which speaks with a mouth without any teeth. If there is any will on Pakistani goverment to stop these attacks, they do have a strong air force which can handle these drones. This indicates the implicit involvement of Pakistani governmnet itself in all this.

• George Washington
Afghanistan 07/11/2008
Air strikes will continue
Bhutto was and Zardari is a Western puppet. The only reason they had an election was because Musharraf got so unpopular he was going to cause an uprising. They couldn't allow Sharif, a maverick, to take over so they ran Bhutto and gave her enormous campaign funding. Zardari and Bhutto are culturally Westerners, they care nothing for the suffering of Pakistanis. The airstrikes will only stop when Sharif wins the next election or an Islamic revolution chases "Mr. Ten-Percent" out of the country.

• Dennis
United States 07/11/2008
What is the greater evil?
Is it military strikes against areas with innocent, civilian populations? Or is it the terrorists who hide amongst and force their will on those same innocent, civilian populations? The Pakistani government is in a no win situation. The tribal leaders in the border region of Pakistan are doing their own people a grave disservice by harboring international criminals.

• Umer
Pakistan 07/11/2008
US Drones
the fact of the matter is that Pakistani Govt has given in to the american this, the govt has allowed them to kill who ever they think is a terrorist...

• Ayub
Afghanistan 07/11/2008
Blood thirsty US at it again.
Patreus the murderous commander hasn't had enough in Iraq.He failed in Iraq,he'll fail in Afghanistan.The US can murder as many innocent as possible in the end they go home demoralised and the cowards get purple hearts.How is that brave,murdering innocent people who live in villages,homes made of mud and hardly anything to eat,no clean drinking water and they fight with flip flops and eat plain bread and drink contaminated water.How is the US bringing democracy in the region?.It's murder.

• Tariq Abideen
India 08/11/2008
US missile attack
Americans are not to be blamed for this. They are there for smoking out the mujahideen. What is apalling is the cowardice with which the Pak government has submitted to the shoot-first-ask-later yankees. Maybe Pak military has learnt nicely how to wink while saying 'attack on sovereign won't be tolerated'.

• D. L. GRAHAM
United States 09/11/2008
One Thousand Bee Stings
Preform an act of Islamic Pride against the American's, One Bee Sting hurts but a (1000) small bee stings kills. Throw stones, slash tires, break windows, throw a ballon with urine at the Americans, and run and do it again and again, each day one act. It doesn't require that you be an Islamic Freedom Fighter.

• Imtiaz Khan
Pakistan 09/11/2008
Invovement of Pakistan Army in Drama of Taliban
In order to attack another every country should have permission from the UN Security Council. Pakistan which posses as the 7the Largest Army in the WOrld is neither resisting these invasions nor complaining to the UN Security Council. A few months ago a retired army general disclosed on some state run TV channel that Pak Army allowed the CIA to have secret bases in the tribal areas of Pakistan. The Pak Army should also close the drama of Taliban in the tribal and scenic valley of Swat.

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