US military admits it killed Afghan children in attacks

Stephen Graham
Thursday 11 December 2003 01:00

The US military admitted yesterday, for the second time in a week, that Afghan children had been killed by US forces in action against Taliban and al-Qa'ida suspects.

Six children and two adults were crushed under a wall last Friday after an attack at a compound stacked with weapons belonging to a fugitive militant.

The attack, and a bungled airstrike last Saturday which killed nine children, were both in the Pashtun-dominated south-east, and risked further alienating the country's largest ethnic group, from which the Taliban emerged and still draws its main support.

Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Hilferty, a US military spokesman, said US warplanes and special forces attacked the compound in the eastern Paktia province, setting off secondary explosions.

Lt-Col Hilferty said there was no indication there were "non-combatants" inside the compound.

Afghans were outraged at the latest killings, and said they had damaged the Americans' image in a nation desperate for much-needed security.

"The people are growing very hostile now, because America should know how to avoid these things," said Tareq, a 30-year-old government worker in Kabul. "They are bombing children every day. It is not Mullah Omar [the Taliban leader] or [Osama] bin Laden that is killing them."

The Afghan government implored the US military to brush up its intelligence and improve security so that badly needed reconstruction could take place.

Omar Samad, a foreign ministry spokesman, said: "The pursuit of terrorists has to continue, but we need to look at how to avoid such tragedies in the future."

Manoel de Almeida e Silva, a United Nations spokesman said: "As well as contributing to a sense of fear and insecurity, these incidents make it easier for those who wish to spoil this process to rally support."

The compound allegedly belonged to Mullah Jalani, a suspected associate of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a renegade warlord. A former prime minister, Mr Hekmatyar is now allied with the resurgent Taliban. He issued a video statement yesterday renewing his call for Afghans to rise against America and its Afghan allies.

Mr Jalani was not among the nine people arrested at the compound, 20km (12 miles) east of Gardez, Lt-Col Hilferty said. He did not identify the adults that were killed or say whether they were combatants or civilians.

Lt-Col Hilferty said troops exchanged fire with rebels, but he had no information about US casualties. He expressed regret over the death of civilians in Afghanistan, but said it was impossible to eliminate such incidents.

"We try very hard not to kill anyone. We would prefer to capture the terrorists rather than kill them," he said.

On 2 December, the US militarylaunched what it describes as its biggest operation against militants since the fall of the Taliban two years ago.

In the incident last Saturday, in the neighbouring Ghazni province, nine children were found dead in a field after an attack by a US aircraft that was targeting a Taliban suspect.

US officials have apologised for the incident.

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