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Afghanistan: 'Some 40' civilians killed in bombing

U.S. says gunfire to blame for casualties

wounded child
Col. James Wu comforts Palako, 6, while assessing the medical needs of the Mir Wais Hospital in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Tuesday.  

KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) -- About 40 people, all civilians, were killed Monday in an attack by U.S. forces on a central Afghan village, Afghan Foreign Minister Dr. Abdullah said Tuesday. "Some 100" other people were wounded, he said.

Abdullah said the dead included 25 family members who were celebrating a wedding in a village in Uruzgan Province.

Casualty figures remain unclear. Wedding party members told reporters about 120 to 130 of the 300 attending the celebration may have been killed, while U.S. defense officials said at least 20 people died in the attack and more than 60 were wounded in the incident.

The White House issued a statement Tuesday, saying President Bush "extends his deep condolences for the loss of innocent life" in Afghanistan. (Full story)

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In a separate incident, a convoy carrying a U.S. medical team was fired on Tuesday as it departed Kandahar for Kandahar Air Base, wounding one soldier in the foot. (Full story)

The team had just returned from Mirwais Hospital in Kandahar, where 19 victims from Monday's incident had been taken, said Col. Roger King, a U.S. army spokesman. At least one of those victims is reported in serious condition.

Abdullah said U.S.-led coalition forces Monday bombed four villages near each other north of Kandahar. However, U.S. officials in Washington said initial indications are that it was gunfire from an AC-130 gunship, rather than bombs, that caused most of the casualties.

In Washington, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said it was too early to know just what happened.

"It could take another day or two to come up with information that would be useful," Rumsfeld said.

U.S., Afghan officials investigate attack

In an attempt to determine the extent of the casualties and what went awry, coalition and Afghan officials launched an investigation into the incident.

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An Air Force B-52 dropped seven 2,000-pound bombs aimed at Taliban and al Qaeda cave complexes, and one of those bombs hit an intervening hill some 3,000 yards short of the intended target, said Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. No casualties appear to have resulted from the errant bomb, he said.

The others hit their targets, killing 12 enemy forces, U.S. officials said. The bombs were precision-guided munitions.

Gunfire from U.S. AC-130 gunship was directed against anti-aircraft artillery sites that had engaged U.S. aircraft from "five or six individual locations spread over many kilometers," Pace said. The plane was not hit, he said.

U.S. forces had been targeted by anti-aircraft artillery fire the night before Monday's attack, Pace said.

U.S. officials said that preliminary indications are that four wounded children evacuated by U.S. military personnel had been hit during an exchange of gunfire between U.S. Special Forces and enemy forces prior to the arrival of the gunship, and not as a result of U.S. aerial bombing.

The children suffered shrapnel wounds and broken bones, the officials said.

U.S. military sources said the sites attacked had been under reconnaissance by U.S. Special Forces since late last week, and there was information Taliban or al Qaeda personnel were hiding in the region. U.S. forces are still in the region, looking for enemy forces.

Afghan officials urge caution

Earlier Tuesday, an Afghan foreign ministry statement said President Hamid Karzai had called in U.S. officials, expressed concern and pressed for a full explanation.

The statement said Karzai asked the Americans that Afghan civilians not be harmed in the coalition's fight against Taliban and al Qaeda elements and urged coalition forces to carefully assess intelligence before bombing.

Asked at a news conference if the Afghan government wants the Americans to leave the country, Abdullah said no.

"We fully understand and welcome efforts of the coalition forces to rid Afghanistan of al Qaeda and Taliban forces," he said. "But we should make sure every measure is taken to avoid civilian casualties."

Abdullah also was asked if he thought al Qaeda leaders Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden were alive. He said he did, but had no idea where they are.

Despite Afghan government reports that wedding attendees were firing into the air in celebration, a U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan said the celebratory fire did not provoke the attack.

"Normally, when you think of celebratory fire ... it's random, it's sprayed, it's not directed at a specific target," said Col. Roger King. "In this instance, the people on board the aircraft felt that the weapons were tracking them and were making a sustained effort to engage them."

King said 100 to 200 Special Forces were involved in the operation in collaboration with Afghan forces early Monday near Tarin Kowt, in Uruzgan province, and called in close air support -- B-52 and AC-130 aircraft -- when they were fired on.

-- CNN correspondents Barbara Starr and Nic Robertson and producer John Raedler contributed to this report.




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