Planes under fire before U.S. attack

AC-130 gunship not B-52 may have hit wedding in Afghanistan, officials say


BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan - U.S. aircraft had been fired upon by anti-aircraft artillery several times in the days preceding a U.S. attack on a cluster of villages in central Afghanistan in which dozens of people were reported killed, defense officials said yesterday.

The officials also said that cannon fire from an AC-130 gunship, not an errant bomb from a B-52 bomber, may have struck what Afghan officials described as a wedding party in the village of Deh Rawood, about 175 miles southwest of Kabul.

Up to 40 people died in the attack early Monday, Afghan officials in the capital said. The officials accused U.S. pilots of mistaking celebratory fire from the party for anti-aircraft fire directed at them.

U.S. military officials would confirm only that four children from the village had been flown to Kandahar air base and treated for injuries. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld cautioned that it was too early to tell exactly what happened.

"These incidents, when they occur, take some time to sort out," Rumsfeld told a Pentagon news conference.

The White House issued a statement in which President Bush expressed "deep condolences for the loss of innocent life."

"In the meantime, we are consulting with Afghan authorities on the humanitarian needs of the people in the area," the statement said.

A fact-finding team composed of U.S. and Afghan officials left Kabul for the village early yesterday, said Col. Roger King, a spokesman at Bagram air base, north of the Afghan capital.

Doctors at Mir Wais Hospital in Kandahar treated 19 people who said they were injured in the attack, said Cmdr. Frank Merriman, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla.

Rumsfeld said it may take several days before the investigation is complete.

In Kabul, President Hamid Karzai demanded yesterday that U.S. and coalition forces "take all necessary measures to ensure that military activities to capture terrorist groups do not harm Afghan civilians."

In an apparent expression of popular outrage over the incident, a group of six U.S. soldiers was fired upon yesterday after visiting victims of the attack in the Kandahar hospital.

One soldier was shot in the foot, Merriman said. The identity of the attackers was unknown.

In Monday's attack, Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said 300 to 400 Afghan soldiers and a small group of U.S. and coalition troops were near the village on a surveillance mission when a U.S. AC-130 gunship covering them came under anti-aircraft fire.

"There had been anti-aircraft fire from that location several times over the previous couple of days," Pace said.

The AC-130 then attacked six sites in the area from which it received fire. The locations were spread out over several miles, Pace said.

In a separate operation, a B-52 bomber in the area dropped seven precision-guided bombs on a cave complex. Six hit their targets, Pace said. The seventh fell about 3,000 yards short, in an uninhabited area.

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