Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Friendly Fire Deaths Divide US and Afghanistan ; Possible Killing of Dozens at Wedding Party Monday Is Latest Controversial Event

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Friendly Fire Deaths Divide US and Afghanistan ; Possible Killing of Dozens at Wedding Party Monday Is Latest Controversial Event

Article excerpt

Civilian casualties allegedly caused by errant United States fire may be opening a serious rift between the new government of Afghanistan and its US protector.

Tuesday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai called US officials into his office to express "grave concern" over the latest reports of such friendly fire casualties. It was the first such strong rebuke since the US campaign against the Taliban and Al Qaeda began.

It isn't yet clear whether US action was indeed responsible for deaths and injuries incurred at a wedding party in southern Afghanistan on Monday. Like so many such incidents, initial details are sketchy, with key aspects disputed by the Pentagon.

But whatever the viewpoint of Washington, officials in Kabul appear to be confronting an increased uneasiness among some Afghan factions about the scale and scope of continued US military operations in their country.

"The main thing about [the latest reported incident] is that it undermines Hamid Karzai. He is already seen as weak and overly reliant on Americans," says Barnett Rubin, director of studies at the Center on International Cooperation at New York University, and a noted expert on Afghanistan.

What happened Monday

Afghan officials and local residents claim that dozens of civilians, including women and children, were killed in an early- morning incident in the village of Kakarak, about 175 miles southwest of the capital of Kabul.

Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah said that as many as four villages were hit by some sort of US firepower during the attack.

Initial reports held that an errant bomb from a US B-52 conducting operations against suspected Taliban or Al Qaeda caves in the area might have been responsible for casualties. But the Pentagon doubts that scenario. A US soldier in the area saw the bomb in question fall into a remote, uninhabited area, according to Defense Department spokesman Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Davis.

Two other possibilities could account for a civilian death toll, said Commander Davis.

A US AC-130 gunship, supporting a separate reconnaissance operation in the area, may have mistakenly fired on villages as it tried to suppress what it believed to be antiaircraft fire. …

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