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US Military Commander: Destroyed Convoy Fired on US Planes - 2001-12-22

The commander of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan says a convoy destroyed by U.S. air strikes in eastern Afghanistan Thursday had opened fire on U.S. aircraft, just before it was struck.

General Tommy Franks says that, contrary to news reports, he does not believe the American planes hit the wrong target.

Local leaders say 65 people, mainly tribal elders and Mujahedin en route to Kabul for the inauguration of the interim administration, were killed in the attack and demanded the new government of Hamid Karzai carry out an investigation.

The Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press says the American planes bombed the convoy of tribal elders after locals fed wrong information to the Pentagon.

But U.S. General Tommy Franks, who is leading the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan, says his forces hit the right target.

"I will tell you, having been in touch with my headquarters, that at this point we believe it was a good target. The indications that I have right now tell me that this was a target that we intended to strike," he said.

General Franks, who attended the swearing in ceremony of the Karzai government, also said that the air campaign in Afghanistan has been remarkable in terms of not hitting the wrong target. He said that each time his command receives a report of bombing gone wrong, they investigate it.

"Anytime we find some sort of a violation or some sort of an issue then we take action that's appropriate. But before we speculate on what that might be, the best thing for us to do is to find out what did happen and so we'll do that," the general said.

General Franks confirmed that the American aircraft that carried out the raid were fired on twice by anti-aircraft missiles in the convoy. He said the American aircraft were not hit.

Mr. Karzai said on Saturday he doubted tribal chiefs were in the convoy, but said he would investigate.

In Washington, Pentagon officials said U.S. military AC-130 gunships and Navy jet fighters attacked and destroyed the convoy, believed to be carrying Taleban leadership.

The air strikes occurred in the early evening hours on Thursday, some 40 kilometers west of Khost in eastern Paktia province.