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Afghans upbraid US over civilians'

Government says act wasn't justified

KABUL, Afghanistan -- In an unusual reproach, Afghanistan's government sharply criticized the US military yesterday for killing as many as 17 civilians in an air raid on Friday, and ordered an immediate inquiry. The United States said the matter was a ''very unfortunate situation" and said that it, too, would investigate.

The raid in eastern Afghanistan was aimed at a known terrorist base, the United States said. But an Afghan official, Jawed Ludin, President Hamid Karzai's chief of staff, said the deaths of the civilians, including women and children, could not be justified.

It marked unusual criticism from the government of Karzai, who is often described as a US puppet. The United States provides security for the president, as well as hundreds of millions of dollars a year in aid.

The reprimand also highlighted Afghan government concern that deadly mistakes could erode support for the US presence here. In the past, Karzai's government has expressed interest in a long-term US military presence in the region, as Afghanistan struggles to recover from almost a quarter-century of war.

US forces, meanwhile, spent an eighth day scouring mountains in the province of Kunar, which borders on Pakistan, searching for the final member of an elite four-man Navy SEAL commando team that was reported missing on June 28.

One SEAL has been rescued; the bodies of two others were recovered Monday in Kunar province and taken to the main US base in Afghanistan, at Bagram, a US military statement said. A helicopter sent in to rescue the four was shot down on the day the team went missing, killing all 16 US service members aboard.

A US military spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Jerry O'Hara, said rescuers searching for the final missing team member were ''still hopeful."

A US military statement said the sole rescued serviceman was receiving medical treatment for injuries that were not life-threatening at the Bagram base.

The air raid Friday that killed civilians targeted a house in the area. The number of people killed was unclear, but ''roughly half" may have been civilians, while the rest were Taliban or Al Qaeda fighters, a Pentagon spokesman, Bryan Whitman, said yesterday.

''It's obviously a very unfortunate situation," another Pentagon spokesman, Lawrence Di Rita, said later at a news conference.

''We take great strides to be precise in our military activities," Di Rita said. ''I think we've been very precise. But these things do occur, and we obviously regret when they do. And we'll investigate to be able to determine what may have happened and how it can be avoided in the future."

A State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack, said: ''We deeply regret any loss of civilian life in . . . military actions.

US forces described the house as ''a known operating base for terrorist attacks."

But Ludin, Karzai's chief of staff, said: ''There is no way . . . the killing of civilians can be justified."

''The president is extremely saddened and disturbed," Ludin said. ''It's the terrorists we are fighting. It's not our people who should suffer."

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