US general defends attack on Afghan convoy that killed 65

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As Afghanistan's new leader took power in Kabul yesterday, the American commander of the Afghan war, General Tommy Franks, insisted US warplanes had bombed a convoy last week only after they were fired on by surface-to-air missiles.

General Franks denied that the convoy was transporting delegates to yesterday's inauguration ceremony. He said the vehicles were tracked for a long time before AC-130 gunships and Navy jet fighters attacked them.

Residents of the village of Asmani Kilai claimed US warplanes bombed them for seven hours on Thursday, killing 65 people, and strongly denied the victims included supporters of Osama bin Laden.

"The fact that two missiles were fired at our aircraft showed they were hostile forces and not innocent civilians," said General Franks. The general revealed he had held talks with General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's military leader, on joint operations in Pakistan to find Mr bin Laden. "There is always the possibility that he has slipped over the border into Pakistan," he said. "Another possibility is that he is dead in a cave in Tora Bora."

Hamid Karzai, the new leader of the interim government, said he would investigate the bombing at Asmani Kilai but doubted civilian tribal chiefs were the victims.