An Afghan governor said Monday that a U.S. airstrike against a suspected insurgent site in Konar province last week killed 17 civilians. The U.S. military confirmed that civilians had died and expressed regret but said the strike Friday targeted a "known operating base for terrorist attacks."
Asadullah Wafa, the governor of Konar province, also said that a second member of a missing U.S. Special Operations team had been located near the Pakistani border, but a senior U.S. Defense Department official in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity due to ongoing operations, said that was not true.
The U.S. government announced Sunday that one of the four Navy SEALs who disappeared last week had been rescued.
Meanwhile, a senior U.S. defense official said late Monday that two of the servicemen had been found dead. The official spoke on condition of anonymity. No other details were immediately available.
Citing Afghan intelligence sources, Wafa said Monday that a U.S. service member had taken shelter in a remote part of the region. "He is in a civilian's house. He is injured," he said. "Afghan soldiers and police are trying to reach the area to rescue him."
Lt. Col. Jerry O'Hara, a U.S. military spokesman, said American forces were still in the area searching for the members of the elite team who disappeared last Tuesday. "We hold every hope for those who are still missing," he said.
The squad of Navy SEALs was reported missing in rugged mountains in Konar province, near the border with Pakistan. A U.S. helicopter carrying 16 Special Operations forces sought to assist in their rescue last Tuesday but was shot down, apparently with a rocket-propelled grenade, killing all aboard. It was the deadliest single blow in combat to American forces in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.
Referring to the U.S. airstrike in the area Friday, Wafa said that "17 civilians were killed during the bombing, including women and children." He did not say whether any rebel fighters also were in the compound.
The U.S. military confirmed that civilians had been killed but did not give a number. In a statement, it said the attack with precision-guided munitions "resulted in the deaths of an unknown number of enemy terrorists and noncombatants."
"The targeted compound was a known operating base for terrorist attacks in Konar province as well as a base for a medium-level terrorist leader," the statement said. "Battle damage assessment is currently ongoing."
The statement added that U.S. forces "regret the loss of innocent lives and follow stringent rules of engagement specifically to ensure that noncombatants are safeguarded. However, when enemy forces move their families into the locations where they conduct terrorist operations, they put these innocent civilians at risk."
The rescued service member was being evaluated Monday at a U.S. military hospital in Germany, officials said. They declined to say when or how the rescue occurred.
A purported Taliban spokesman, Abdul Latif Hakimi, asserted last week that rebels had captured a "high-ranking American" in the area where the helicopter went down.
U.S. officials said there was no evidence that any of the Special Operations forces had been taken into captivity.
Meanwhile, Afghanistan's defense minister, Rahim Wardak, said hundreds of Afghan soldiers fighting alongside U.S. troops in the mountains had encircled a small group of suspected al Qaeda fighters.
Wardak said insurgents are attracted to the rugged, wooded mountains in Konar because the area is "easy to infiltrate" and exit quickly. He said al Qaeda is not thought to have permanent bases there, but that small teams of fighters roam the area.