Afghan Report Says 47 Civilians Died in US Airstrike
By Barry Newhouse
11 July 2008
An Afghan government commission says a U.S. airstrike this week that American commanders claimed had targeted militants instead killed 47 civilians. The reports of civilian casualties come as American commanders say they are trying to counter the growing threat from insurgents coming across the Pakistani border. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Islamabad.
The Afghan government ordered an inquiry into Sunday's U.S. airstrike after conflicting reports about the attack. Local officials in Nangarhar province said the victims were part of a wedding party and no militants were in the region. U.S. commanders had insisted militants were among the group.
President Hamid Karzai appointed a nine-member government commission to investigate. After traveling to the region, the head of the commission, Senate deputy speaker, Burhanullah Shinwari, tells VOA that the victims were all civilians.
He says that they investigated and found in that area 47 people were killed and nine wounded. He said no militants were present and the victims were mainly women and children who were walking to a wedding party.
U.S. officials say they have not completed their investigation yet.
Afghan officials have expressed concern over mounting civilian casualties, as U.S. and NATO forces try to counter a surge in attacks by Taliban forces in recent months.
Militants safe havens in Pakistan have been blamed for contributing to the spike in violence that made June the deadliest month for coalition forces since the 2001 invasion.
During a visit to Kabul this week, Admiral Michael Mullen said U.S. officials now believe that Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, called FATA, are attracting an increasing number of foreign fighters.
"There are clearly more foreign fighters in the FATA, than have been there in the past, and I wouldn't get into any specifics. But what it really speaks to is that that's a safe haven, that's got to be eliminated for all insurgents - not just al Qaida," Admiral Mullen said.
Coalition forces have responded with aggressive operations. American Marines have recaptured Taliban-held towns in Helmand province. Coalition and Afghan forces are pursuing militants operating near the Pakistani border, and occasionally firing at militants fleeing back into Pakistani territory.
In June, a U.S. airstrike on a border post accidentally killed 11 Pakistani troops. The Pakistani military sharply criticized the attack.
On Friday, local officials in South Waziristan said mortar shells fired from Afghanistan wounded eight Pakistani troops at a border checkpoint. U.S. and Pakistani military officials have not commented on the reported strike.
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