Afghan Governor Warns of


By Amir Shah

Associated Press
July 5, 2002

"The governor of the province where a US air strike reportedly killed scores of people warned Friday that Afghans will rise up against Americans if US troops don't stop killing civilians in the hunt for Taliban and al-Qaida fugitives."

"If Americans don't stop killing civilians, there will be jihad (holy war) against them in my province," Jan Mohammed Khan, governor of Uruzgan province, told The Associated Press by telephone.

Khan's province includes the village of Kakarak, where Afghans said 25 members of a family celebrating an impending marriage were killed in a U.S. air attack Monday.

In all, 44 Afghans were killed and 120 injured in raids Monday on Kakarak and four other villages, Afghan officials said. U.S. officials say an anti-aircraft gun had fired on U.S. planes from the compound where the partygoers died.

President Bush telephoned Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Friday to express sympathy for the victims' families, White House spokesman Claire Buchan said.

"Certainly the president expressed to President Karzai that this was a tragic loss," Buchan said. Kabul Radio said Bush also emphasized his commitment to a full investigation and assured Karzai that such an incident will not happen again.

The attack has clearly strained relations between the Afghans and the U.S. military, which is still pursuing Taliban and al-Qaida forces nearly eight months after the hardline Islamic militia abandoned Kabul.

U.S. officials have said no weapon was found at the compound where the wedding party was reportedly killed. U.S. military spokesman Col. Roger King said U.S. investigators found large shell casings and at least one weapon mounted on a vehicle. He refused to identify the weapon or specify the exact location where it was found.

However, Afghans in the area strongly deny the U.S. account. The wedding party was for a family close to Karzai which supported his battle against the Taliban last year.

"We condemn this bombardment," Khan said. "It was an intentional attack on civilians. It is unfair to target a wedding party." He said Afghans in his province were "furious" with the Americans.

In January, U.S. special forces attacked a school in the Uruzgan village of Khas, where they thought Taliban or al-Qaida leaders were sheltering. Those inside turned out to be government troops on a weapons collection mission, and 21 of them were killed. Similar mistakes have occurred in Kandahar, Paktia and other southern provinces.

"This has to stop, or people will fight Americans just like they did Russians," Khan said. The former Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 1979 to shore up a pro-Moscow government. U.S.-backed Islamic insurgents battled the Red Army until it withdrew in February 1989.

Word of the latest Uruzgan attack has swept through the ethnic Pashtun areas of Afghanistan, raising anger among an ethnic community that already feels marginalized by the U.S.-backed government in Kabul that replaced the Taliban.

Most of the Taliban were Pashtuns, the largest ethnic community. The new government in Kabul is heavily influenced by ethnic Tajiks from the anti-Taliban northern alliance, although Karzai himself is a Pashtun.

Most combat operations still underway in Afghanistan are believed to be taking place in Pashtun areas, placing Pashtun civilians at the greatest risk.

"The Afghans and Americans are now friends but they will change to enemies if this kind of mistake continues," said Bismillah Gharanai, 50, a government employee in Kandahar. "They changed a wedding into a funeral."

A joint U.S.-Afghan investigation team visited the scene of the latest raid this week and had been scheduled to report Friday to Karzai in Kabul. However, the team was still in Kandahar late Friday, and Afghan and U.S. officials said it was unable to reach Kabul because of sandstorms.

U.S. and Afghan investigators have drawn widely differing conclusions from preliminary examinations. American investigators suggested that the amount of blood found was inconsistent with the number of deaths reported and that the number of injured who reported to hospitals was far below Afghan figures. In addition, a spokesman for the U.S. team, Maj. Gary Tallman, said investigators were not taken to the graves of the 25 people reportedly killed despite repeated requests. However, a survivor took an Associated Press reporter to the burial plot Thursday.

Afghan investigators are convinced of the casualty figures. Some have suggested U.S. forces may have been given erroneous information by Afghans working for them. Khan, the governor, suggested those Afghans be handed over to Afghan authorities.

"Such spies give a bad name to the Americans," Khan said.

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