Civilians dead following U.S. air strike on 'terrorist compound'

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Monday, July 4, 2005

17 Afghan civilians, including women and children, are thought to be have been killed as the result of U.S. aircraft bombing the village of Chechal in the east of Afghanistan late last week, said a governor.

The air strike occurred last Friday in the same area as an elite U.S. military team went missing three days ago.

Provincial governor Assadullah Wafa told the Associated Press “seventeen civilians died in the U.S. bombing of the village.” He went on to comment that casualties consisted of women and children, though he did not know the exact figure.

A U.S. military statement claimed that the "compound" bombed was a “known operating base for terrorist attacks in Kunar province as well as a base for a medium-level terrorist leader,"

The statement, written after criticism in the press of the U.S. military’s lack of precaution in these matters, then went on to say the U.S. armed forces “regret the loss of innocent lives and follow stringent rules of engagement specifically to ensure that non-combatants are safeguarded. However, when enemy forces move their families into the locations where they conduct terrorist operations, they put these innocent civilians at risk."

One member of the missing military team has been recovered and is currently being “evaluated” on Monday, a U.S. Defence Department spokesperson said, though he refused to comment on details regarding his whereabouts and health.

Afghan and U.S. forces are currently in the Kunar province searching for members of the missing military team. U.S. officials at the time of the bombing said in a statement that the attack utilised “precision-guided munitions that resulted in the deaths of an unknown number of enemy terrorists and non-combatants,"

The statement continued, concluding that "battle damage assessment is currently ongoing."

In May, Afghan president Hamid Karzai voiced his concerns over the excessive number of civilian casualties as a result of US-led operations.

Some observers have speculated that the attack on the village was a deliberate response to the downing of a US transport helicopter last month. In that incident, 16 troops died in the worst single blow to American forces since the Taliban was ousted in 2001.

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