Afghans say US bombs hit civilians
Group: 47 killed; US says event under study
KABUL, Afghanistan - A US military airstrike this week killed 47 civilians traveling to a wedding, the head of an Afghan government commission investigating the incident said yesterday.
The airstrike on Sunday in Deh Bala district of Nuristan province also wounded nine civilians, said Burhanullah Shinwari, the deputy chairman of the Senate, who led the delegation.
The US military on Sunday denied that any civilians were killed in the incident. At the time, Afghan officials said 27 civilians had been killed.
Yesterday, a US coalition spokesman, First Lieutenant Nathan Perry said, "This incident regarding the airstrike on July 6th is still under investigation by coalition forces."
"I assure you that civilians are never targeted, and that our forces go to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties," Perry said.
Shinwari said that 39 of those killed in the airstrike were women and children, including the bride.
The group was targeted twice on Sunday, as they walked along with the bride from her village toward the groom's house in another village, the investigation found.
President Hamid Karzai sent the nine-member commission to investigate the incident on Tuesday.
They returned to Kabul on Thursday. The commission included officials from the Ministry of Defense, the country's intelligence agency and parliament.
Shinwari said the group gathered information from eyewitnesses and victim's relatives.
All those killed in Deh Bala incident were buried in one cemetery near the village where the attack happened, Shinwari said. "They were all civilians, with no links to Al Qaeda or the Taliban," he said.
The members of the commission gave $2,000 for every person killed and $1,000 for those wounded, he said.
The issue of civilian casualties has caused friction between the Afghan government and US and NATO troops and has weakened the standing of the Western-backed Karzai in the eyes of the population.
More than 2,100 people - mostly militants - have been killed in insurgency-related violence in Afghanistan this year.
More than 8,000 people died in attacks last year, according to the United Nations, the most since the 2001 US-led invasion.
In a separate development yesterday, a Pakistan Army spokesman said mortar shells fired from Afghanistan wounded six Pakistani security forces along the border, and Pakistan lodged a "strong protest" with NATO.
The six mortar rounds were fired overnight and fell close to a military post in the town of Angore Adda in the South Waziristan tribal region, Major General Athar Abbas said.
Pakistani forces immediately returned fire, and "casualties were reported on the other side," he said.
"This was mortar fire from the Afghan side," Abbas said. "Whether it was foreign forces or Afghan forces it's yet to be determined."
Asked if militants across the border could have been behind the firing, Abbas said he did not want to speculate.
US military officials in Afghanistan did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Details, such as the exact time of the incident, remained sketchy late yesterday.