Bombs strayed, hit near homes

Pentagon concedes errors over weekend

War On Terrorism

The Nation

October 24, 2001|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Pentagon officials acknowledged yesterday that two U.S. bombing runs on military targets in Afghanistan over the weekend went astray, striking near a senior citizens' home outside the western city of Herat and in a residential neighborhood north of the capital, Kabul.

Victoria Clarke, the Pentagon's spokeswoman, said a Navy F/A-18 Hornet missed its intended target Sunday morning and "inadvertently dropped a 1,000-pound bomb in an open area near a senior citizens' home outside Herat."

The intended target was a vehicle-storage building at the Herat army barracks, approximately 100 yards from the facility, she said. Taliban officials have said 100 civilians were killed when a U.S. bomb struck a hospital in Herat, although Clarke said the Pentagon is uncertain whether the hospital is the same as the senior home.

On Saturday morning, a Navy F-14 missed its intended target and mistakenly dropped two 500-pound bombs in a residential area northwest of Kabul. "The intended targets were military vehicles parked in an area approximately one half-mile away," Clarke said at a Pentagon briefing.

In Pakistan, United Nations spokeswoman Stephanie Bunker said a bomb hit a military hospital inside a compound east of Herat. But U.N. officials were uncertain whether the hospital was being used at the time or if any civilians or military personnel were hurt.

There was also no word on casualties in the Kabul neighborhood, said Clarke, although the Associated Press reported Sunday that bombs flattened two homes and that eight dust-covered bodies were seen in the rubble.

"We take great care in our targeting process to avoid civilian casualties," Clarke said. "We care deeply about the loss of life."

Rear Adm. John D. Stufflebeem, deputy director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters: "What hits that may have occurred in residential areas are rare mistakes, or rare errors is probably more appropriate."

The admiral and other Pentagon officials also said that the Taliban are trying a new tactic to protect their fighters and armaments from U.S. airstrikes. Increasingly they are moving troops and armor into residential neighborhoods.

"So they are trying to find places that they can go to husband their assets - or to protect their vehicles," said Stufflebeem. He said there have been no reports of U.S. aircraft taking fire from Taliban forces in these neighborhoods.

One Pentagon official said there was at least one report that armed residents of one neighborhood had forced out Taliban soldiers who were seeking residential cover.

Attack in Pakistan

Meanwhile, Clarke said that a U.S. heavy-lift helicopter came under small-arms fire in Pakistan on Saturday after retrieving the wreckage of a U.S. Army Blackhawk helicopter that crashed, an accident that killed two soldiers on board.

Clarke said there were no injuries to U.S. military personnel from the attack, which occurred at an undisclosed airfield in Pakistan, where the helicopter went to refuel after picking up the Blackhawk.

"They took hostile fire, aborted the refueling, returned fire and departed," she said. "There were no casualties among the U.S. crew and no reports of casualties on the ground." The Pentagon did not disclose what type of heavy-lift helicopter was used and was uncertain of the identities of those shooting at the chopper.

That was the first known attack on U.S. forces in Pakistan, where thousands have taken to the streets opposing the air attacks on the Taliban and al-Qaida forces. The United States is quietly operating out of three air bases in Pakistan: in Pasni on the Arabian Sea, in Dalbandin in the remote southwest Balochistan province and in Jacobabad in Sindh province, about 200 miles from the Afghan border.

Clarke also said that claims by Taliban officials that they had shot down a U.S. helicopter were untrue, but she said the helicopter landing gear they displayed to prove their case did come from a U.S. aircraft. The landing gear belonged to a Chinook twin-rotor transport helicopter, which took part in the Special Operations raid into southern Afghanistan over the weekend, she said.

"During Friday night's mission, the helicopter's main landing gear came in contact with a barrier, which tore the wheels off," she said.

The aircraft continued its mission and returned to its base safely, with no injuries to the crew or further damage to the aircraft, she said.

Stufflebeem said that the U.S. bombing campaign entered its third week with strikes Monday against 11 target areas that included airfields, radar and Taliban forces, including armor and vehicles.

About 80 strike aircraft were used, most of them carrier-based tactical jets, as well as land-based bombers and other planes, including the AC-130 gunship.

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