U.S. Medical Team Attacked by Afghan Insurgents

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Associated Press
Thursday, July 7, 2005

KABUL, Afghanistan, July 6 -- Rebels attacked a U.S. military medical team as it was helping villagers in the same region of eastern Afghanistan where a U.S. airstrike last week killed as many as 17 civilians, the U.S. military said Wednesday.

No one was wounded in the assault on the medical team, which took place Tuesday near the town of Asadabad in Konar province, a military statement said. U.S. forces responded to the attack with mortar fire, causing the insurgents to flee.

"It's incredible to us that the enemy would attack our forces while we are providing innocent Afghans with health care," said Lt. Col. Jerry O'Hara, a U.S. military spokesman.

The airstrike Friday also was in Konar and targeted a known terrorist base, the U.S. military said. But an Afghan government spokesman said the deaths of the civilians, including women and children, could not be justified.

The comments marked unusual criticism from the government of President Hamid Karzai, often derided by critics as an American puppet. The United States provides security for the president as well as hundreds of millions of dollars a year in aid to Afghanistan.

The reprimand also highlighted the Afghan government's concern that deadly mistakes could erode public support for the U.S. presence here.

In the past, Karzai's government has expressed interest in a long-term U.S. military presence in the region as Afghanistan recovers from nearly a quarter-century of war.

U.S. forces, meanwhile, spent an eighth day in the mountains of Konar searching for the final member of an elite, four-man Navy SEAL commando team that was reported missing June 28.

One team member was rescued, while the bodies of two others were recovered Monday and taken to Bagram air base north of Kabul, a U.S. military statement said. A transport helicopter sent to rescue the four was shot down the day the team went missing, killing all 16 U.S. servicemen aboard.

"We're of course doing everything we can to find the last of the four SEALs. And it's a real priority, and something the president asked to get briefed on this morning," President Bush's national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, told reporters aboard Air Force One.

Another U.S. military spokesman, Col. James Yonts, said, "We are conducting a very aggressive, 24-hour, around-the-clock search for this individual."

"I can't go into detail, but we are very hopeful that we will recover this individual back into our care soon. We are working this very hard," he told reporters in Kabul, the capital.

He said the U.S. military had 300 troops in the area as well as numerous aircraft.

A U.S. military statement said the sole rescued serviceman was receiving medical treatment at Bagram for "non-life-threatening injuries."

The airstrike that killed the civilians targeted a house in the same area. The total number of people killed was still unclear, but "roughly half" may have been civilians, while the rest were Taliban or al Qaeda fighters, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said Tuesday.

U.S. forces described the house as "a known operating base for terrorist attacks . . . as well as a base for a medium-level terrorist leader."

"We deeply regret any loss of civilian life in the course of military actions," said Sean McCormack, a State Department spokesman.


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