US to review Afghan attack

Military looks at civilian deaths

By Jason Straziuso
Associated Press / September 8, 2008
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KABUL, Afghanistan - The US military said yesterday that it has "new information" about an American attack that Afghanistan says killed 90 civilians and that it is sending a senior military officer to the country to review its initial investigation that concluded no more than seven civilians died.

The military did not say what new information had emerged. But Afghan and Western officials say Afghanistan's intelligence agency and the United Nations both have video of the aftermath of the air strikes on Azizabad village showing dozens of dead women and children.

An Afghan government commission has said 90 civilians, including 60 children and 15 women, died in the Aug. 22 bombings, a finding that the UN backed in its own initial report.

But a US investigation released Tuesday said only as many as seven civilians and 35 militants were killed in the operation in the western province of Herat.

A UN official who has seen one video of Azizabad told the Associated Press it shows maimed children. A second Western official has said one video shows bodies of "tens of children" lined up and he called the video "gruesome." The two officials spoke on condition they not be identified because the videos had not been publicly released.

Although the United States said Tuesday its investigation of the attack was complete, the military at that time appeared to leave open the possibility that photographs or video from the scene could emerge. American officials said privately last week that they were aware photographic evidence apparently existed, but that they did not have access to it.

"No other evidence that may have been collected by other organizations was provided to the US investigating officer and therefore could not be considered in the findings," the initial US report said.

Yesterday, General David McKiernan - the senior US officer in Afghanistan and the commander of the 40-nation NATO-led mission - had requested that an American general travel from US Central Command in Florida to Afghanistan to review the US investigation.

That announcement followed by one day a statement attributed to McKiernan on Azizabad that said: "We realize there is a large discrepancy between the number of civilians casualties reported" and McKiernan would continue to "try to account for this disparity."

The New York Times reported on its website yesterday that one of its reporters had seen cellphone video in Azizabad of at least 11 dead children among about 30 to 40 bodies laid out in the village mosque. The Times also said Azizabad had 42 freshly dug graves, including 13 so small they could hold only children.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has for years warned the United States and NATO that it must stop killing civilians in its bombing runs, saying such deaths undermine his government and the international mission. But the Azizabad attack could finally push Karzai to take action.

Shortly after the Azizabad attack, he ordered a review of whether the United States and NATO should be allowed to use air strikes or carry out raids in villages. He also called for an updated "status of force" agreement between the Afghan government and foreign militaries. That review has not yet been completed.

The US investigative report released Tuesday said American and Afghan forces took fire from militants while approaching Azizabad and that "justified use of well-aimed small-arms fire and close air support to defend the combined force."

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