Tuesday, September 09, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan - The bodies of at least 10 children and many more adults covered in blankets and white shrouds appear in videos obtained by The Associated Press on Monday, lending weight to Afghan and U.N. allegations that a U.S.-led raid last month killed more civilians than the U.S. reported.
The sounds of wailing women mixed with the voices of men shouting inside a white-walled mosque in the western village of Azizabad, where an Afghan government commission and U.N. report said some 90 civilians - including 60 children and 15 women - were killed.
The two grainy videos, apparently taken by cell phones, showed bodies lying side-by-side on the mosque floor, covered by floral-patterned blankets and black-and-white checkered shawls. One young boy lay curled in a fetal position; others looked as though they were asleep. One child had half its head blown off.
Turbaned men walked around, gently lifting the blankets covering the faces of the dead. At least two elderly men were among the dead. There appeared to be several dozen bodies lying on the mosque floor, though a precise count was difficult because of the poor quality of the images.
The videos do not provide proof that 60 children died in the operation, but the images do appear to contradict a U.S. military investigation that found only seven civilians were killed in Azizabad, along with up to 35 militants.
The U.S. said Sunday it would reopen the investigation because of emerging new evidence. On Monday, a Pentagon spokesman said new "imagery evidence" came to the attention over the weekend of Gen. David D. McKiernan, the American commander of the NATO-led force here.
"There is some evidence that suggests that the evidence that the U.S. military used in ... its investigation may not have been complete," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said.
He said a general to be sent to Afghanistan by U.S. Central Command will review the initial investigation. But it is also possible there will be a new inquiry into the raid in Azizabad - this time conducted by Central Command, said Lt. Cmdr. Bill Speaks, a spokesman for the command in Tampa, Fla.
The Afghan government has agreed to a joint U.S.-U.N.-Afghan investigation, said Sultan Ahmad Baheen, spokesman for Afghanistan's Foreign Ministry. It's not clear when or how that will be conducted.
In the videos, several dozen bodies covered by blankets were lined up in two rows, some with their feet protruding. Veiled Afghan women were seen shrieking in grief, alongside a young boy who squatted and rocked back and forth, sobbing beside one of the bodies.
One video showed three young children wrapped in white shrouds. A fourth child had gruesome head wounds, while a fifth appeared to be a girl lying on her back, her head resting on a red blanket.
It was impossible to verify conclusively that the videos showed the aftermath of the Azizabad attack, but the contents appeared to back claims by Afghan and U.N. officials that the U.S. operation killed far more civilians than the military has acknowledged.
U.S. special forces and Afghan commandos carried out the operation.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly 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.
Karzai says the Azizabad bombings have brought relations between the Afghan government and the U.S. to one of its lowest points since the ouster of the Islamic militia from power in 2001.
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.
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.
The U.S. investigative report released last week 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 the militants planned to attack a nearby coalition base. This included weapons, explosives, intelligence materials and an access badge to the base, as well as photographs from inside and outside the base, the U.S. report said.
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