Archive for Wednesday, July 6, 2005

Afghan government criticizes civilians’ slaying; search continues for missing SEAL

July 6, 2005

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— In a rare rebuff, Afghanistan's government sharply criticized the U.S. military Tuesday for killing up to 17 civilians in an air strike and ordered an immediate inquiry. The United States called it a "very unfortunate situation" and said it also would investigate.

The air strike in eastern Afghanistan targeted a known terrorist base, the United States said, but an Afghan government spokesman said the deaths of the civilians, including women and children, could not be justified.

It marked unusual criticism from the government of President Hamid Karzai, often viewed by critics as an American puppet. The United States provides security for the president as well as hundreds of millions of dollars a year in aid to Afghanistan.

The reprimand also highlighted Afghan government concerns that deadly mistakes could erode public support for the U.S. presence here. In the past, Karzai's government has expressed interest in long-term U.S. military presence in the region as Afghanistan struggles to recover from nearly a quarter-century of war.

U.S. forces, meanwhile, spent an eighth day scouring mountains in Kunar province bordering Pakistan, searching for the final member of an elite four-man Navy SEAL commando team that went missing June 28.

One SEAL has been rescued, while the bodies of two others were recovered Monday in Kunar province and taken to the main U.S. base in Afghanistan, at Bagram, a U.S. military statement said. A transport helicopter sent in to rescue the four was shot down the day the team went missing, killing all 16 U.S. servicemen aboard.

U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Jerry O'Hara said rescuers searching for the final missing team member were "still hopeful," adding, "until you know otherwise, you have to assume he is alive."

A U.S. military statement said the sole rescued serviceman was receiving medical treatment for "non-life-threatening injuries" at the Bagram base.

The air strike Friday that killed civilians targeted a house in the same area. The number of people killed was still unclear, but "roughly half" may have been civilians, while the rest were Taliban or al-Qaida fighters, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said Tuesday.

"It's obviously a very unfortunate situation," Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita said later at a news conference.

"We take great strides to be precise in our military activities," Di Rita said. "I think we've been very precise. But these things do occur and we obviously regret when they do. And we'll investigate to be able to determine what may have happened and how it can be avoided in the future."

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack echoed those remarks.

"We deeply regret any loss of civilian life in the course of military actions," McCormack said. "Our military is second to none in the care that it takes to target those who are fighting against our U.S. forces and avoid any civilian casualties or collateral damage."

U.S. forces described the house as "a known operating base for terrorist attacks ... as well as a base for a medium-level terrorist leader."

A government team is on its way to the site to probe the bombing, a Defense Ministry statement said. The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission said its investigators were already there collecting victims' names.

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