x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Afghan wedding party turns into 'bloodbath'

Villagers say a wedding turned into a 'bloodbath' after foreign troops mistakenly attacked the party.

Weeping Afghan villagers said today that a wedding party was turned into a 'bloodbath' after foreign troops unleashed a massive attack thinking they were targeting insurgents. Residents of Wocha Bakhta village, 80 kilometres north of the southern city of Kandahar, said 36 people were killed and others wounded in hours of fighting on Monday. There was no immediate confirmation of the number of dead. The US military acknowledged there were casualties and said it was investigating.

Villagers told a reporter that a wedding lunch had just ended and the bride was preparing to say farewell to her family when it was believed a Taliban insurgent fired at international troops on a nearby hill. 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," Mr 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," Mr 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 a large compound that they said was turned into rubble by the strikes while body parts and blood stains could be seen in the area. There were 16 freshly filled graves, three of them contained children. The village religious 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," Mr 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. Villagers only managed to take the wounded to hospitals on Tuesday. Seven women, including the bride, and three children were said to have been admitted to hospital in Kandahar.

The President Hamid Karzai alluded to the civilian casualties in a press conference in Kabul today, giving no details. But he called on new US president-elect, Barack Obama, to stop his troops harming ordinary people as they pursue the "war on terror" in Afghanistan. Mr Karzai's brother Wali, head of the Kandahar provincial council, said villagers had been killed but the number was not known. Kandahar province governor, Rahmatullah Raufi, said separately: "A number of civilians have been killed and wounded but the number is not clear yet." The Taliban had attacked a US military patrol, he said.

The US military said it was investigating with the ministry of interior 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 said. "I can't confirm numbers," he said, adding the military regretted every time civilians became "collateral damage" when troops tried to take out militants.

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