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Afghans 'understand' deaths - US
( 2003-12-08 09:37) (CNN.com)

Afghan villagers are "understanding" but "not happy" following the apparent deaths of nine children in an American airstrike, a U.S. military spokesman has said.

The children and a man were found dead in the central Afghanistan village of Hutala after the A-10 airstrike intended for a suspected Taliban terrorist, Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty said Sunday.

Afghan men walk past the children's graves at a cemetery in Hutala.  [AP]
He added that investigators had not determined that Saturday's strike killed the children. Military spokesmen also said they did not know whether the dead man was the intended target.

Hilferty, based at Bagram Air Base north of the capital Kabul, said the villagers in Hutala were calm as they participated in "several long talks" with military officials and representatives from the provincial governor's office.

"They're pretty understanding," said Hilferty, who was among the U.S. officials who traveled to the village, about 160 kilometers (100 miles) southwest of Kabul. American military representatives later attended an outdoor service at a mosque for the children who died.

"They've been through years of war. They're not happy, but I think it meant a great deal to them that my commander, Gen. [Lloyd] Austin, came out and personally expressed his condolences."

"The biggest thing is we want to express our condolences no matter what happened," Hilferty said.

Hilferty said the strike was based on "very clear, actionable intelligence" that a suspected Taliban terrorist was at the location. DNA samples would determine if the dead man was the terrorist suspect, he added.

Another spokesman at Bagram, Maj. Ralph Marino said the intended target was believed to be responsible for killing two contractors in October. The contractors were working on the Kabul-Kandahar-Herat ring road in Oruzgun or Zabol province, Marino said.

The military operated under rules of engagement "to make sure we didn't hurt anybody besides him, but, unfortunately, it's an imperfect art," Hilferty said.

The blast in Kandahar blew out windows at a nearby hotel.

"I can tell you that when we looked down right before we hit the target, we saw no children," he said. "If we had, we would not have attacked."

In Hutala, a reporter for The Associated Press said he saw dozens of small craters from the U.S. plane's guns and pools of blood and articles of childrens' clothing strewn around.

"They were just playing ball and then the shots came down," Hamidullah, a distraught villager who said his eight-year-old son Habibullah was among those killed, told AP. Like many Afghans they only have one name.

The United Nations' envoy to Afghanistan said he was "profoundly distressed" by the children's deaths.

The United Nations added that the tragedy could have a negative impact among Afghans in the south of the country. It called for an urgent investigation and for the results to be made public.

"This incident, which follows similar incidents, adds to a sense of insecurity and fear in the country," U.N. Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi said.

The 11,500 American forces have been trying to track down remnants of the Taliban and al Qaeda sympathizers in eastern and southern Afghanistan.

But the militants have stepped up attacks in recent months, targeting foreign aid workers and perceived allies of the U.S.-led coalition.

On Saturday at least 15 people were wounded after a bomb attached to a bicycle exploded in Kandahar's main square. (Bicycle bomb injures 15)

(Courtesy to CNN.com)

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