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8 Afghan Civilians Killed During US Assault on Suspected Terrorist Compound - 2003-12-10

U.S. forces in Afghanistan have confirmed reports that eight civilians, including six children, were killed during an assault on a suspected terrorist compound last Friday.

The U.S. military says the bodies of the civilians were discovered under a collapsed wall the day after an air and ground assault on the compound in the southeastern province of Paktia.

Military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Hilferty says the compound belonged to Mullah Jalani, described as an "opportunistic terrorist" with ties to the al-Qaida terror network and Afghan insurgents loyal to the former Taleban regime. He says the compound was used to store large amounts of weapons.

He says the dead civilians have yet to be identified. He also says that U.S. forces consider this case to be very different from the deaths Saturday of nine children during an aerial attack in Ghazni province.

U.S. forces are calling the Ghazni incident a tragedy. They have met to console the victims' families and have launched an investigation.

But Lieutenant Colonel Hilferty says that while the U.S. forces regret any loss of innocent life, Friday's case is different in character.

"If non-combatants surround themselves with thousands of weapons … in a compound known to be used by a terrorist, we are not completely responsible for the consequences," he said.

He says coalition troops were careful during their assault on the Mullah Jalani compound.

"To show you how stringent our rules of engagement are, we watched … more than 10 people leave that compound, but we did not fire on them because we could not determine … that they were not combatants," col. Hilferty said.

He says U.S. forces arrested nine suspects following the raid, although Mullah Jalani was not among them and his fate is still unknown.

They also confiscated thousands of weapons, including rockets, mines and artillery.