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Tuesday, 1 January, 2002, 06:12 GMT
US defends Afghan raid
US soldier at compound in Kandahar airport
The hunt goes on for the al-Qaeda network
United States military forces have confirmed that they carried out a bombing raid on a site in eastern Afghanistan, but have denied allegations that 100 civilians were killed in the attack.

This was not a village as originally reported - it was a known Taleban and al-Qaeda leadership facility

Matthew Klee
US military spokesman
The disputed raid was carried out on Sunday morning against Niazi Qalaye, just north of the town of Gardez in Paktia province. It is the third time in recent days that American planes have killed people claimed by witnesses to be civilians.

But while local people said up to 107 people had been killed and at least 10 wounded, US military spokesman Matthew Klee insisted that the site was not a village, but a hideout used by Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda fighters.

"If there were any innocent people that were killed there, the numbers being reported, I think, are unfounded," he told the BBC.

Lieutenant Commander Klee said two B1 bombers and one B52 bombed had been involved in the operation.

He added that secondary explosions were clearly seen after the attack, suggesting the compound was being used for weapons or fuel storage.

Two missiles were also fired at the American planes, he said.

"You don't have a village launching surface-to-air missiles at aircraft," he said.

An official of the local tribal shura, or council, said US soldiers had been invited to inspect the damage caused by the raid.

Peacekeeping accord

Meanwhile, British military officials in the Afghan capital Kabul have initialled an agreement with the interim government on the deployment of a multinational peacekeeping force.

Hamid Karzai
Hamid Karzai says US forces can remain as long as "terrorist" forces do
Details of the accord have not been made public.

Reports suggest there was some disagreement over the size of the force and its duties.

The British soldiers currently on duty in Kabul are expected to be joined by other national contingents in the coming days.

British troop reinforcements moved into Kabul on Monday, bringing the size of the contingent up to about 250.

Convoy controversy

The US bombing campaign in Afghanistan has continued despite the collapse of the Taleban regime, as the hunt goes on for Osama Bin Laden and the remnants of his al-Qaeda terror group - blamed for the 11 September attacks on New York and Washington.

The Pentagon believes that some remnants of al-Qaeda remain in Paktia province, and there have been several attacks on the area in the past few days.

Earlier this month, US warplanes attacked a convoy of vehicles in the province and killed up to 60 people.

Changing allegiances

This area of eastern Afghanistan formerly gave strong backing to the Taleban and many al-Qaeda training camps were located in its remote mountain valleys.

Some confusion over the identity of the victims may have been caused by the fact that many local leaders have only recently switched their allegiance from the Taleban to support the new interim government in Kabul.

Our correspondent says al-Qaeda fighters who may have escaped from their last stronghold in the nearby Tora Bora area are likely to have sought refuge in the wild border area of Paktia.

New Afghan leader Hamid Karzai has said the Americans are welcome to continue military operations in his country until all "terrorist" forces have been defeated.

The BBC's Richard Miron
"We found evidence of casualties"
See also:

01 Jan 02 | Americas
Bush appoints Afghan envoy
28 Dec 01 | South Asia
Bush says Afghan mission goes on
23 Dec 01 | South Asia
Afghan convoy bombing row grows
31 Dec 01 | South Asia
UK increases Kabul presence
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