NYT : Afghans Say New U.S. Strike Killed Civilians

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Afghans Say New U.S. Strike Killed Civilians

By ABDUL WAHEED WAFA | July 7, 2008

KABUL, Afghanistan — Local officials in eastern Afghanistan said Sunday that an American airstrike killed at least 27 civilians in a wedding party, most of them women and children and including the bride. Officials of the American-led coalition disputed the report, saying that the airstrike killed militants and that there was no evidence of women and children at the scene.

The attack early Sunday in the Deh Bala district of Nangarhar Province was the second in the past three days in which many civilian deaths were reported.

The president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, has ordered an investigation into a helicopter strike on Friday in Nuristan Province in which the provincial governor said 22 civilians had been killed and 7 wounded.

The United States military has also disputed that account, saying that only people who had been firing on coalition forces were hit.

The governor of Deh Bala district, Hamisha Gul, said the airstrike on Sunday came while a group of women and children were walking from the bride’s village, Kamalai, to the groom’s home. Tradition holds that women and children walk with the bride separately from the men.

Mr. Gul said residents had reported finding “so far 27 bodies, including two men, and the others are all women and children.”

He added, “The new bride is among the deaths.”

A member of Parliament from the area, Babrak Shinwary, said in an interview in Kabul that he had received phone calls from his constituents with similar reports.

Dr. Ajmal Pardis, director of public health in Nangarhar Province, said the hospital in Jalalabad, its capital, had received five patients, three women and two men, wounded in the airstrike.

A statement from the coalition forces in Afghanistan said several militants were killed in the airstrike, which was ordered after the forces received intelligence reports of a large gathering of combatants in Deh Bala.

“We have no reports of civilian casualties, and there were no women and children there,” Capt. Christian Patterson, a coalition spokesman, said.

Mr. Gul, the district governor, said that he had heard reports of militants being in the area but that all of the dead were civilians.

Civilian casualties have been a continuing issue in Afghanistan, and President Karzai has rebuked American and NATO forces for what he has called carelessness in their military operations.

Sangar Rahimi contributed reporting.