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MID: Afghans distraught after wedding strike that 'killed 40'

06 Nov 2008 2:57 AM

WOCHA BAKHTA, Afghanistan, Nov 5 AFP - Weeping Afghan villagers said today that a wedding party was turned into a bloodbath when foreign troops unleashed a massive attack thinking they were targeting insurgents.

Residents of Wocha Bakhta village, 80km north of the southern city of Kandahar, said 36 people were killed and others wounded in hours of fighting Monday.

President Hamid Karzai later released a statement saying about 40 were dead, including women and children. The US military acknowledged there were casualties and said it was investigating.

Villagers told an AFP reporter that a wedding lunch had just ended and the bride was preparing to say farewell to her family when someone, believed tobe a Taliban insurgent, fired at international troops who were on a nearbyhill.

The soldiers returned fire into the village and called for air support, said a man who gave his name as Abdul Jalil and said he was a cousin of the wounded bride.

"They surrounded the village. From 2pm until 12 at night they kept the village under fire from helicopters, jet fighters and troops on the ground," Jalil said.

The father of the bride, Roozbeen Khan, said he had lost six relatives.

"My wounded son was in my arms, right here, bleeding," he cried, standing next to a large blood stain. "He died last night."

"I lost two sons, two grandsons, a nephew, my mother and a cousin," Khan wailed, adding "Why? Why?"

His daughter was among seven of his relatives who were wounded. The groom survived but his father, mother and sister were killed, he said.

Villagers showed AFP a large compound that they said was turned into rubbleby the strikes while body parts and blood stains could be seen in the area. There were 16 freshly filled graves, three of children.

The village cleric, Mullah Mohammad Asim, said he had counted 36 bodies.

"They bombed six to seven houses. They pounded and fired into the village from afternoon until midnight," Asim said.

"At midnight, the Americans came and they took the men out of the houses and handcuffed them. But when they saw the death and the destruction, they removed the handcuffs and told us to take the wounded to hospital," he said.

They had only managed to take the wounded to hospitals the following day, Tuesday.

Seven women, including the bride, and three children were admitted to hospital in Kandahar, the AFP reporter said.

Karzai condemned the civilian casualties in a statement that said he reminded the international forces they should not be harming ordinary people "forthe sake of some criminal terrorists."

He called on new US President-elect Barack Obama to stop his troops harmingordinary people as they pursue the "war on terror" in Afghanistan.

Afghan villages were "not the place to fight terrorism", he said, urging coalition forces to focus "on eradicating their nests, their training centres," a reference to militant hideouts in Pakistan.

Civilians have been killed before in military action in Afghanistan, threatening popular support for efforts against the Taliban-led insurgency.

In one of the deadliest such incidents, Afghan and UN investigation teams have alleged up to 90 were killed in US military action in the western province of Herat in August. The force says 33 civilians and 22 insurgents were killed.

The US military said it was investigating Monday's strike with the interiorministry and had sent personnel to the village.

"We acknowledge some civilians have been injured and some may have been killed," US Forces Afghanistan spokesman Colonel Greg Julian told AFP.

AFP cmc =0A