Claims of civilians wiped out in US air raids, journalists detained by security forces, GIs missing in combat. My, things just look better and better in Afghanistan. Thanks to Lebanon’s Daily Star for this report which, while compiled from wire services, is more comprehensive and realistic than most of what we’re getting in the US press.
Afghans say U.S. attack killed 17 civilians
Second missing American soldier located in eastern province
Seventeen civilians including several women and children died when U.S. aircraft bombed a suspected militant hideout in eastern Afghanistan last week, a provincial governor said.
The news came after it was announced that a second member of an elite U.S. military team missing since last week in eastern Kunar Province is believed to be wounded and sheltering in a house in a remote part of the region, Kunar Governor Assadullah Wafa said.
After declining to comment over the weekend about reports of civilian deaths in Friday’s air strike in Kunar Province, the U.S. military said on Monday it had killed an “unknown” number of militants and civilians and regretted the loss of innocent life.
The governor of Kunar, Assadullah Wafa, said an investigation by Afghan security forces showed 17 civilians had been killed during the air raid on a village during a search for a small group of U.S. soldiers missing since last Tuesday.
He also said Afghan forces received information on Sunday night that a wounded American was being treated by villagers in a remote mountainous part of the province.
“Our troops are trying to reach the place,” he said. “Villagers have him and are treating him for wounds. But the soldier has not been handed over as yet.
“He is safe and there is no danger to his life. This is a very difficult terrain – big trees and mountains,” he added.
Wafa said the soldier was in the same area as that where a U.S. helicopter sent to rescue the troops was shot down by militants last Tuesday, killing all 16 U.S. Special Forces soldiers aboard.
U.S. military spokesmen in Kabul have declined to confirm reports quoting unidentified Pentagon officials as saying one missing Special Forces soldier was rescued on Saturday after evading militants for five days.
Wafa said he had no information about two other soldiers believed to be missing.
A U.S. military statement said the compound targeted on Friday “was a known operating base for terrorist attacks in Kunar Province as well as a base for a medium-level terrorist leader.”
“U.S. forces regret the loss of innocent lives and follow stringent rules of engagement specifically to ensure that non-combatants are safeguarded,” it said.
“However, when enemy forces move their families into the locations where they conduct terrorist operations, they put these innocent civilians at risk,” it added.
The statement said U.S. forces took careful steps to prevent civilian deaths and sometimes cancelled or dramatically altered mission plans to reduce the risk to non-combatants.
The ousted Taliban regime said Saturday that U.S. bombing had killed 25 civilians, including children.
American-led forces have mistakenly killed scores of Afghan civilians since engineering the fall of the Taliban regime in late 2001, including 48 who died when a wedding party came under attack three years ago.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai voiced concerns in May about civilian deaths resulting from U.S.-led operations.
The U.S. military has declined to say how many soldiers were missing, but The New York Times quoted a senior Pentagon official as saying it was a four-man team, including the soldier rescued.
The official identified the rescued man as a Navy Seal commando. The SEALs are an elite force, specially trained to operate behind enemy lines and avoid capture.
A senior Afghan police officer said U.S. aircraft blasted militant positions in Kunar again on Sunday, but a U.S. spokesman said he had no information about fresh strikes he could report.
Lieutenant-Colonel Jerry O’Hara said “a search and recovery” operation also aimed at rooting out militants was continuing in Kunar, but declined to provide details.
The deaths of the Special Forces troops in the helicopter was the single biggest combat blow to U.S. forces in Afghanistan since they overthrow the Taliban in late 2001 and came amid stepped up militant violence ahead of elections on September 18.
The effect will have been worsened by the fact that U.S. soldiers are still missing over the U.S. July 4 holiday.
U.S. military spokesmen in Kabul have said they had no reason to believe the men had been killed or captured – contrary to Taliban claims.
A Taliban spokesman said last week that a video of a captured soldier would be provided to news organizations and photographs posted on the Taliban Web site – www.alemarah.com – but neither appears to have happened.
Separately, media organizations said that four Afghan journalists covering the ongoing U.S.-led operation in Kunar have been detained by local security agencies. Intelligence officials would not comment.
The detained journalists include two reporters from Prague-based Radio Free Europe and another pair who worked for a Western news agency. Their company in Kabul requested that their identities not be released.
The Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists said it was “deeply concerned” by reports that the journalists had begun a hunger strike in custody.
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