U.S. Re-Examines Afghan Attack That Killed Civilians

By: AP
By: AP
 (AP Photo/Fraidoon Pooyaa, File)

(AP Photo/Fraidoon Pooyaa, File)

KABUL, Afghanistan - The U.S. military said Sunday it has "new information" about an American attack that Afghanistan says killed 90 civilians and 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 U.N. both have video of the aftermath of the airstrikes 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 U.N. backed in its own initial report.

But a U.S. investigation released Tuesday said only up to seven civilians and 35 militants were killed in the operation in the western province of Herat.

A U.N. official who has seen one video of Azizabad told The Associated Press it shows maimed children. The official became highly emotional describing rows of bodies.

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 U.S. 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 U.S. investigating officer and therefore could not be considered in the findings," the initial U.S. report said.

On Sunday, Gen. David McKiernan — the senior U.S. officer in Afghanistan and the commander of the 40-nation NATO-led mission — had requested that an American general travel from U.S. Central Command in Florida to Afghanistan to review the U.S. 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 Web site Sunday that one of its reporters had seen cell phone video in Azizabad of at least 11 dead children among some 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 now warned the U.S. 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 incident could finally push Karzai to take action.

Shortly after the Azizabad attack, he ordered a review of whether the U.S. and NATO should be allowed to use airstrikes 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.

Nek Mohammad Ishaq, a provincial council member in Herat and a member of the Afghan investigating commission, has said photographs and video taken of the victims are with Afghanistan's secretive intelligence service.

Ahmad Nader Nadery, spokesman for Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission, has said a villager named Reza, whose compound bore the brunt of the attack, had a private security company that worked for the U.S. military at nearby Shindand airport.

Villagers and officials have said the operation was based on faulty information provided by a rival of Reza. Aziz Ahmad Nadem, a member of parliament from Herat, has told the AP that the rival is now being protected by the U.S. military.

Afghan officials say U.S. special forces and Afghan commandos raided the village while hundreds of people were gathered in a large compound for a memorial service honoring a tribal leader, Timor Shah, who was killed eight months ago by a rival, Nader Tawakal. Reza, who was killed in the Aug. 22 operation, is Shah's brother.

The U.S. 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."

The report said investigators discovered evidence that the militants planned to attack a nearby coalition base. Evidence collected included weapons, explosives, intelligence materials and an access badge to the base, as well as photographs from inside and outside the base.

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Associated Press reporter Fisnik Abrashi contributed to this report.


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