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US Probes Reports of 'Friendly Fire' Incident in Northern Iraq - 2003-04-06

U.S. Central Command says it is investigating a report that a U.S. warplane mistakenly bombed a convoy in northern Iraq that was carrying Kurdish fighters and U.S. Special Forces personnel, killing several people. At its daily briefing in Qatar, Central Command also said U.S. forces had killed a number of foreign fighters in Iraq.

Central Command acknowledges receiving reports about the latest so-called friendly fire incident, but said it lacks specific details, and needs to investigate the matter further.

A BBC reporter who said he witnessed the incident, and was slightly injured in what he described as an attack by an American warplane, said he counted between 10 and 12 bodies after the attack took place. Other reports put the death toll higher.

Brigadier General Vince Brooks, the deputy director of operations for Central Command, said it will take a while to find out what really happened. "As with every other report like this, we'll dig into it, find out what the contributing circumstances are, and try to come to some degree of closure on not only what happened, but also if there are some things we need to learn from it, how it happened and what we can do to prevent it from happening again if, indeed, we have some involvement in that," he said.

General Brooks denies that coalition forces had anything to do with another incident, involving a convoy of Russian diplomats that came under fire as it left Baghdad in the direction of the Syrian border. The general said the area in which the incident occurred is still under Iraqi government control.

General Brooks said U.S. Marines are searching a camp at Salman Pak, about 20 kilometers southeast of Baghdad, where U.S. military officials believe some type of terrorist training was conducted. He said American forces have killed or captured several foreign fighters in Iraq recently, and suggested they might have trained at the compound.

"Some of these fighters came from Sudan, some from Egypt, some from other places, and we have killed a number of them and captured a number of them, and that's where some of this information came from," he said.

General Brooks said evidence of military training activities for foreigners inside Iraq increases the likelihood of links between the Iraqi government and terrorist organizations. But he did not elaborate.

Asked whether U.S. forces had found any of Iraq's purported chemical or biological weapons, General Brooks said the priority for U.S. forces now is to destroy the regime of Saddam Hussein.

But he said that, as U.S. troops gain more access to sites in Baghdad and to people involved in Iraq's chemical and biological program, he is confident they will find the hiding places of such weapons.