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Pentagon Acknowledges Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan - 2002-07-08

The Pentagon is now acknowledging there were civilian casualties as the result of a U.S. air strike in Afghanistan last week. Defense officials still say the precise number of dead and injured is unclear.

Afghan officials have said more than 40 civilians were killed and some one hundred injured when a U.S. AC-130 gunship fired on what the Pentagon says were anti-aircraft guns in a remote village north of Kandahar.

Chief Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke acknowledges there were indeed civilian casualties in the raid. But she says the number is still uncertain. "We know [civilian casualties] occurred and we regret every one of them," she said, "but we do not have hard and fast numbers from what we have seen thus far."

A joint U.S. and Afghan team has already conducted a preliminary probe into the incident in Oruzgan Province. But Ms. Clarke says a new team is now being formed to conduct a full investigation into the July 1 raid to determine what caused the civilian casualties. She says the team will be led by a U.S. Air Force General and will include a representative of the Afghan government.

U.S. officials still maintain anti-aircraft fire was directed at American planes in the area, although no anti-aircraft guns have yet been found. However, the Pentagon has now disclosed the broad area around the village had been under surveillance by U.S., coalition and Afghan forces for some five months.

Lieutenant General Gregory Newbold of the Pentagon's Joint Staff says the allied forces were looking for high-ranking Taleban leaders believed to be in the area. "There was sufficient intelligence to believe that there were some, what we would call, high-value individuals that might be operating in the area," he said.

General Newbold would not say whether the allies believed fugitive Taleban leader Mullah Mohamed Omar was in the area. He does say, however, that coalition forces detained five persons in the vicinity of the village where the civilian casualties occurred. They are currently being questioned. Their identities have not yet been established.