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U.S.: Militants, Not Villagers, Hit in Afghan Raid

Police Say Up to 8 Civilians Among Dead in Anti-Taliban Assault Near Pakistan Border

Wednesday, September 1, 2004; Page A16

KABUL, Afghanistan, Aug. 31 -- The U.S. military said its forces killed more than 20 Islamic fighters on Tuesday in eastern Afghanistan but denied reports it had killed up to eight villagers in the same operation.

Local police and aid workers said that between six and eight villagers were killed and nine wounded by U.S. bombing in Weradesh, in Konar province's Manogi district. They said several houses were also destroyed.

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But Maj. Scott Nelson, a U.S. military spokesman in the capital, Kabul, said: "We didn't fire on these people."

He said the U.S.-led forces saw a "precision-guided bomb" strike its target, which he described as a vehicle with a weapons system, probably a mortar, mounted on it. The bomb killed more than 20 combatants, Nelson added.

Forces belonging to the Taliban and their ally, renegade commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, are active in the area some 125 miles east of Kabul in a mountainous region close to the border with Pakistan.

Local police and aid workers gave a grim account of casualties among the villagers.

"As a result of the bombing by American planes, six civilians have lost their lives, nine more have been injured and eight houses have been demolished," said Mohammad Arif Nizami, Konar's deputy police chief, speaking from Asadabad, the provincial capital. Nizami said the bombing occurred at about 2 a.m.

An Afghan who worked in the village for a foreign relief agency was also reported wounded.

"According to the information from our local staff, eight villagers were killed in the bombing. One of our Afghan staff was wounded, too, but I was told he is in a stable condition," said Gorm Pederson, of the Danish Committee for Aid to Afghan Refugees.

Nelson said casualties among the villagers were more likely caused by inaccurate rocket and mortar fire from Islamic fighters.

U.S.-led forces along with Afghan troops engaged the militants after one of their installations came under attack.

Nelson said ground forces moved through the village after the bombing and cornered one fighter who blew himself up with a grenade, wounding seven children.

A U.S. military statement said one child was badly hurt but the rest were in stable condition.

One coalition soldier was wounded, along with two Afghan troops.

About 18,000 U.S.-led foreign troops and the newly formed Afghan army are pursuing the Taliban and its allies, including members of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network.

Afghans say several thousand civilians have been killed mainly in the south and east of Afghanistan since the United States began its war against the Taliban and al Qaeda in late 2001.

Last December, about 15 civilians, including children, were killed by U.S. bombs in southeastern Afghanistan.

Nearly 1,000 people have been killed in the country in the past year as government opponents have stepped up attacks to disrupt an Oct. 9 presidential election.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company