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US Airstrike Killed 10 Civilians, says Afghan President - 2004-01-31

Afghan President Hamid Karzai says a U.S. air strike in the south of the country earlier this month killed 10 civilians. Mr. Karzai's statement contradicts a report by U.S. military officials at the time of the bombing.

President Karzai says an interior ministry investigation into the bombing in the southern province of Uruzgan has established that 10 civilians were killed, and that women and children were among them.

Speaking to reporters at his official residence in Kabul Saturday, the U.S. backed Afghan president called the civilian casualties unfortunate.

U.S. military officials have not yet commented on Mr. Karzai's statement, but shortly after the attack in the Charcheno District two weeks ago, they rejected reports from provincial authorities that 11 civilians had been killed.

They said instead that five armed militants were killed in the attack, and that the target had been suspected leaders of Afghanistan's ousted Taleban government. The U.S. military maintains that the targeted area was a meeting point of what it described as mid-level Taleban leaders.

The southern Afghan region used to be a stronghold of the Taleban, and has more recently been the scene of sporadic clashes between U.S. led forces and anti-government rebels. Rebels have killed dozens of Afghan soldiers and attacked official buildings.

This is not the first incident of civilian deaths since the Taleban was ousted in late 2001. In July 2002, a U.S. military helicopter fired on a wedding party, killing at least 34 people. The U.S. military said its aircraft had come under fire from the scene.

A 12,000-strong multinational anti-terrorism force, composed mostly of American soldiers, is in the country to establish order and search for remnants of the Taleban and the al-Qaida terror network.