US attack kills six children 

US attack kills six children

American style freedom for these kids...


US attack kills six children

By Stephen Graham in Kabul
December 10, 2003

SIX children were crushed to death by a collapsing wall during an assault by US forces on a compound stuffed with weapons in eastern Afghanistan, an American military spokesman said today.

It was the second time in a week that civilians have died in action against Taliban and al-Qaeda suspects.

The children died during a night attack on Friday against a complex in Paktia province where a renegade Afghan commander, Mullah Jalani, kept a huge cache of weapons, said Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Hilferty.

"The next day we discovered the bodies of two adults and six children," he said. "We had no indication there were noncombatants" in the compound.

Jalani is believed to be an associate of renegade warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a former prime minister who has joined the resurgent Taliban. The military believes Jalani was involved in recent attacks against coalition forces, but has not provided any details.

Jalani was not at the site, 20 km east of Gardez, but Hilferty said nine other people were arrested. He did not identify the adults that were killed or say whether they were combatants or civilians.

Hilferty said US warplanes and troops attacked the compound, setting off secondary explosions.

Hilferty expressed regret over the death of civilians in Afghanistan, but said it was impossible to completely eliminate such incidents.

"We try very hard not to kill anyone. We would prefer to capture the terrorists rather than kill them," Hilferty said.

"But in this incident, if noncombatants surround themselves with thousands of weapons and hundreds of rounds of ammunition and howitzers and mortars in a compound known to be used by a terrorist, we are not completely responsible for the consequences."

There was no word of US casualties in the operation. Hilferty said gunfire was directed at the troops from inside the compound.

The US military, which on December 2 launched what it describes as its biggest operation against militants since the fall of the Taliban two years ago, says it found hidden storage compartments containing hundreds of 107mm rockets, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, anti-tank and anti-personnel mines and several howitzers at the compound.

It was unclear if the wall was knocked down by troops searching for weapons or the secondary explosions. Hilferty said it was still too dangerous to search the whole site.

The news comes on the heels of a tragic US military blunder in neighbouring Ghazni province on Saturday. Nine children were found dead in a field after an A-10 ground attack aircraft targeted a Taliban suspect.

US officials have apologised for that incident. They originally claimed that the attack killed the intended target, a former Taliban district commander named Mullah Wazir suspected of recent attacks on road workers. But yesterday US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said that was no longer certain.

Villagers say the man killed was a local labourer who had just returned from Iran and that Mullah Wazir had left the area days before the attack.

The Ghazni deaths produced outrage and concern, from Afghan villagers to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who said he was "profoundly saddened" by the deaths and urged a full investigation.

Afghan officials warned that such mistakes would undermine support for the US-backed government of President Hamid Karzai and tolerance of foreign troops.

"I can't guarantee that we will not injure more civilians," Hilferty said. "I wish I could."

Karzai said today that he was "very sad," about the Ghazni killings and indicated he was working with the Americans "to fund ways to prevent incidents like that" from happening again.

Under its new Operation Avalanche, involving about 2000 troops across the south and east of the country, the US military began an air assault in Khost province along the mountainous border with Pakistan.

Hilferty said less than 100 troops took part - far less than suggested yesterday - and that he had no information on any combat or casualties.

The Associated Press



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