US accused of airstrike cover-up
US accused of airstrike cover-up
From Dumeetha Luthra in Kabul - July 29, 2002
AMERICAN forces may have breached human rights and then removed evidence
after the so-called wedding party airstrike that killed more than 50
Afghan civilians this month, according to a draft United Nations report
seen by The Times.
A preliminary UN investigation has found no corroboration of American
claims that its aircraft were fired on from the ground, and says there
were discrepancies in US accounts of what happened.
If the findings are upheld by a second, more detailed, UN investigation,
they will cause huge embarrassment to the Pentagon.
UN sources said that the findings pointed to an American cover-up, and
suggested that American investigators were dragging their feet hoping that
the issue would pass.
The attack took place early on July 1 as American forces hunted pockets of
Taleban and al-Qaeda resistance. A US helicopter gunship opened fire on
targets around the village of Kakarak, and the casualties included 25
members of one family at a wedding party.
A UN source said that the report was produced by a team of experienced and
reputable UN people, who have been in the region a while and know it well.
It states that there was clear evidence that human rights violations had
taken place and that coalition forces had arrived on the scene very
quickly after the airstrikes and cleaned the area, removing evidence of
shrapnel, bullets and traces of blood. Women on the scene had their hands
tied behind their backs.
Investigators had found no weapons, no corroboration on the ground that
the US had been fired on, and that there were discrepancies between the
various American accounts of what happened.
In a prepared statement last night a UN spokesman in Afghanistan said that
the report contained judgments that were not sufficiently substantiated,
and that a comprehensive report was being finalised that would provide a
more detailed and accurate picture.
However, the statement added that the findings on the ground bear out the
paramount necessity that such incidents do not recur, both from a
humanitarian and political perspective.
It called for an in-depth investigation (to) be carried out to ensure that
such tragedies are not repeated; and that the protection of civilian lives
becomes a primary concern in the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan.
The wedding party raid was not the first US airstrike to kill Afghan
civilians and it both angered President Karzai and has fuelled
anti-American sentiment in the country.
A joint US-Afghan team is investigating the strike, but nothing has been
disclosed and no timescale has been given on when the findings will be
made public. One UN official put it: The more it drags on, the harder it
is to prove and probably the people investigating want it to go slowly and
Pentagon officials have said that cameras fixed to the AC130s gun turrets
showed gunfire coming from the ground, but the Pentagon has not released
the film, as it has on previous occasions, preventing independent analysis
of whether it was anti-aircraft artillery or celebratory rifle fire.
The Pentagon declined to comment on the UN report, but said all matters
arising from the incident were under consideration by US Central Command
and that charges against the servicemen involved had not been ruled out.
But the Pentagon insisted it was too early for the US to draw any
conclusions because its investigative team had yet to start compiling its
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