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US Probes Reports of Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan - 2001-12-31

A Pentagon spokeswoman says defense officials are aware of reports from a village in eastern Afghanistan that a US bombing attack Sunday may have left nearly 100 civilians dead.

The Pentagon confirms US B-1B bombers fired precision munitions in the area near the city of Gardez. But it says the target that was destroyed was a Taleban leadership complex. The spokeswoman tells VOA that US military authorities are investigating the incident. It comes just days after Afghanistan's new Defense Minister appealed for an end to US bombing raids, saying there was no point in continuing the attacks.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon spokeswoman says US forces have taken custody of more Taleban and al-Qaida prisoners, raising the total to 180. Most are being held in a detention facility in the southern city of Kandahar. Eight have been taken to a US ship in the Arabian Sea. All are eventually expected to be transferred to the US Navy base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

The detainees in Kandahar are being guarded by US Marines. But the Pentagon has announced the Marines will be replaced by soldiers of the Army's 101st Airborne Division. Defense officials will not say when the shift will take place. But they say the move will enable the Marines to prepare for unspecified future missions.

The Bush administration has made clear the anti-terrorist operation launched in Afghanistan will not end there. Among the other countries mentioned as possible future targets are Somalia, Yemen and Iraq.