Islamabad, Pakisan The U.S. Central Command will send a senior team, headed by a general and including a legal affairs officer, to re-investigate a U.S. air attack last month that U.N. and Afghan officials say killed 90 civilians, amid mounting public outrage in Afghanistan and evidence that conflicts with the military's initial version of events.
The U.S. decision to again probe the Aug. 21 attack in Azizabad, near the western city of Herat, came at the urging of Gen. David D. McKiernan, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan.
McKiernan said he was prompted by "emerging evidence" that threw into question the finding of a U.S. investigation that five to seven civilians died. McKiernan had earlier said he concurred with that finding.
The attack and the widely divergent accounts of its toll have exposed long-standing tensions between U.S. forces in Afghanistan and other major players in the war there, including the government of President Hamid Karzai, the U.N. assistance mission and the NATO military command. Underlying the dispute over civilian casualties are a lack of communication, a diffuse command structure and different military rules of engagement.
Military officials said the new evidence included a cell phone video showing dozens of civilian bodies, including those of numerous children, prepared for burial in Azizabad following the attack. McKiernan was shown the video Friday by Kai Eide, the chief U.N. representative in Afghan-istan.
"The footage that is there on this shows horrendous pictures of these bodies and clearly identifies women and children. In some cases, the bodies are not in one piece," a U.N. official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "Whether you say it was 76 or 82 or even 92 - it was clearly not seven who were killed there."
Said a senior U.S. military official: "Whatever information McKiernan got that was shared by Afghan and U.N. representatives led him to believe there was good cause to want to look at all of this more deeply."
In a statement, McKiernan said: "The people of Afghanistan have our commitment to get to the truth."