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Arms Cache Found in Afghanistan; Officials Investigate Civilian Deaths

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 8, 2002 -- U.S. and coalition forces unearthed another arms cache in Afghanistan while investigators wrapped up a preliminary probe into the alleged July 1 friendly fire accident in Oruzgan Province.

"This weekend, in a small town north of Kandahar, our forces found a cache that included 29 of the shoulder-fired anti-air missiles of various makes," said Marine Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold, operations director for the Joint Staff. Several arms caches of "significant size" were found last week, he added.

Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said a joint U.S.- Afghan team has completed the preliminary investigation into the July 1 raid in southern Afghanistan that allegedly struck an Afghan wedding party in Oruzgan Province. She said a second team is slated to be in Bagram within 24 to 48 hours to conduct a full investigation.

Headed by an Air Force brigadier general, the team will include Army, Navy and Air Force members as well as AC-130 gunship and forward air control experts. U.S. officials have asked President Hamid Karzai to appoint an Afghan to the investigation board and to oversee Afghan participation, she said.

"The team will tour as long as they need to tour the sites, interview villagers, pilots, forward air controllers and Special Forces and to do as thorough as possible a job on the investigation," Clarke said. "There is a lot of ground to cover, but we will work hard to get as many answers as possible."

U.S. officials have said coalition forces were operating in the Oruzgan area that day, looking for suspected Taliban members believed to be hiding there. U.S. Air Force B-52 bombers and AC-130 gunships struck several ground targets, including anti-aircraft artillery sites that were engaging the aircraft.

Media reports say the air strikes killed more than 40 civilians and injured more than 100. Clarke said the number of civilians killed or injured remains unclear. "We know they occurred, and we regret every one of them," she said, "but we do not have hard and fast numbers from what we have seen thus far."

Clarke said there are no plans to cut back on using air power in light of the friendly fire incident. Depending on the circumstances, she said, "We will use the means, the tools and tactics that we think are appropriate."

Newbold said military officials conduct air strikes in response to enemy action. "We also use them to protect our troops," he said. "We have to strike a balance between accomplishing the mission and taking prudent steps to ensure that we minimize any unintended effects."

"Although civilian casualties have occurred, as they always do in military conflicts, they have been quite low," Clarke said. "Every one of those casualties is a tragedy -- every single one of them. We regret the loss of every life. We regret the injury of every innocent civilian. But overall, the results have been pretty extraordinary."

The United States goes to extraordinary lengths to avoid civilian casualties and will continue to do while prosecuting the war on terrorism, she stressed. When accidents occur, she said, U.S. officials immediately get together with the Afghan government "to figure out what's the right approach going forward."

Clarke said the United States continues to have close relations with the Afghan people and their government. "We're working closely in a joint effort to rid the country of the remaining pockets of al Qaeda and Taliban, and we will continue that close cooperation until the job is done," she said.

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