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US decided against strike at Afghan cemetery

WASHINGTON -- The US military acknowledged yesterday that it had considered bombing a group of more than 100 Taliban insurgents in southern Afghanistan, but that it decided not to after determining the insurgents were on the grounds of a cemetery.

The decision came to light after an NBC correspondent's web log carried a photo of the insurgents. Defense Department officials first tried to block further publication of the photo, then struggled to explain what it depicted.

NBC News said US Army officers had wanted to attack with missiles carried by an unmanned Predator drone, but were prevented under rules of battlefield engagement that bar attacks on cemeteries.

In a statement released yesterday, the US military in Afghanistan said the picture, a grainy black-and-white photo taken in July, was given to a journalist to show that Taliban insurgents were congregating in large groups. The statement said US forces considered attacking.

``During the observation of the group over a significant period of time, it was determined that the group was located on the grounds of the cemetery and were likely conducting a funeral for Taliban insurgents killed in a coalition operation nearby earlier in the day," the statement said. ``A decision was made not to strike this group."

While not giving a reason for the decision, the military concluded that the statement saying that while Taliban forces have killed innocent civilians during a funeral, coalition forces ``hold themselves to a higher moral and ethical standard than their enemies."

The photo shows what NBC News says are 190 Taliban militants standing in several rows near a vehicle in an open area of land. Gunsight-like brackets were positioned over the group in the photo.

The photo appeared on NBC News correspondent Kerry Sanders's blog. Initially, military officials called it an unauthorized release, but they later said it was given to the journalist.

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