U.S. bombs house, killing 11 Afghans

Pentagon quickly takes responsibility for mistake, calling it `tragic incident'

April 10, 2003|By Kim Barker | Kim Barker,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

KABUL, Afghanistan - An American warplane mistakenly bombed a house in eastern Afghanistan early yesterday, killing 11 family members and wounding the only surviving relative, officials said.

Unlike in past civilian bombings in Afghanistan, the U.S. military immediately claimed responsibility for the mistake, calling it a "tragic incident."

"This is a disaster," said Mohammed Ali Paktiawal, the governor of Paktika province, where the bombing occurred. "Eleven people were martyred."

U.S.-led forces had been pursuing rebels who crossed the border from Pakistan and attacked an Afghan government checkpoint near Shkin on Tuesday night, officials said.

In that attack, four Afghan soldiers were wounded, the U.S. military said.

U.S. Marine Corps AV-8 Harrier aircraft were called in and spotted two groups of as many as 10 fighters. The warplanes attacked one group with cannon fire and aimed a laser-guided 1,000-pound bomb at the other, the U.S. military said.

The bomb hit a house in the Barmal district, less than a mile from the Afghan checkpoint, during prayers about 4:15 a.m. yesterday, Paktiawal said.

The U.S. military statement said coalition forces do not intentionally target civilian locations.

A military spokesman said seven women and four men were killed. But Said Tayeb Jawad, chief of staff for President Hamid Karzai, said most of the victims were women and children.

"This is a very unfortunate incident," Jawad said, adding that coalition forces should make every effort to select their targets correctly. "The biggest asset in the war against terrorism is the support that the forces fighting terrorism are enjoying."

A government team planned to investigate the bombing site today, Paktiawal said, adding that the wounded civilian, a man, was the only surviving member of his family. He and the wounded Afghan soldiers were being treated at a nearby U.S. military base.

There was no word on the fate of the enemy fighters the troops were pursuing.

Remnants of the Taliban based in Pakistan have been attacking eastern and southern Afghanistan in recent weeks, officials said. U.S. military and government posts near Shkin, a key border crossing, have been targeted by rocket attacks and ambushes.

Interior Minister Ali Jalali called the civilian deaths "regrettable," but said that in the war against terrorism "these things will probably continue to happen."

Although American forces still enjoy support in Afghanistan, some Afghan officials worried that this attack and similar previous bombings might sway public opinion.

In July, at least 34 civilians were killed when an American gunship fired on a wedding party in the central town of Deh Rawud. The U.S. military acknowledged the accident five days later.

Kim Barker writes for the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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