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US to investigate air strike that killed 47 Afghan civilians

An Afghan investigation into the bombing of a wedding party by US warplanes has found that 47 civilians, including 39 women and children, were killed in an air strike last Sunday.

The attack took place in the eastern province of Nangarhar when survivors say aircraft bombed a convoy bringing a bride to her new husband's village. After the bombing, the US military released a statement saying it had been targeting a large group of Taliban militants.

After first claiming that there were no civilians in the area the US announced its own inquiry into the incident.

But Afghan investigators were unequivocal. "I reject the coalition statement saying that all those killed were militants," said Burhanullah Shinwari. The deputy speaker of the upper house told Reuters: "There aren't any Taliban or al-Qa'ida even several kilometres near to where the air strike took place."He spoke after attending prayer ceremonies for the 47 victims in the provincial capital, Jalalabad.

The US has been warned that it faces "crippling, long-term consequences" in its efforts to stabilise Afghanistan if Taliban sanctuaries inside Pakistan are not eliminated.

A further investigation has been launched into another US air strike carried out two days before Sunday's attack in which local officials maintain that 15 civilians were killed. "We are still investigating it and we haven't completed our investigation so I can't speak about specifics at this time," a spokesman for the US military said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross called on all sides in the conflict to take more care to avoid harming civilians.

On Monday more than 40 civilians were killed by a suicide car bomb that targeted the Indian embassy in Kabul. It was the deadliest attack in Kabul since the US overthrew the Taliban in November 2001. Many of the victims had been queuing for Indian visas and the dead included two Indian diplomats.

Within hours Afghan officials suggested that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency was behind the attack. "Everything has the hallmark of a particular intelligence agency that has conducted similar terrorist acts inside Afghanistan in the past," said President Hamid Karzai's spokesman.

If Taliban sanctuaries in neighbouring Pakistan are not eliminated the United States and its Nato allies will face "crippling, long-term consequences" in their efforts to stabilise the country, a new report financed by the military has warned.

The study, Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, has claimed that Nato officials have uncovered several instances of Pakistani intelligence agents providing information to Taliban fighters, including information on "the location and movement of Afghan and coalition forces".

The UN said last month that nearly 700 Afghan civilians had lost their lives in Afghanistan this year, about two-thirds in attacks by militants and about 255 in military operations.