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Last Updated: Monday, 8 December, 2003, 13:41 GMT
DNA tests hold key to Afghan raid
Graves of the nine children killed in the US bombing
The nine children killed were buried on Saturday
US forces in Afghanistan are still trying to identify whether they killed their target in a bungled raid on Saturday that claimed nine children.

The attack in a remote area of southern Ghazni province was aimed at Taleban militant, Mullah Wazir.

The US said initially that the mullah had been killed but now says DNA tests are being carried out.

Coalition spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Bryan Hilferty admitted such bombing errors could alienate the population.

He also said US forces had begun "Operation Avalanche" at the weekend in eastern and southern Afghanistan, which would pit 2,000 troops against resurgent Taleban forces.

Karzai shocked

Mullah Wazir, a former low-ranking official in the Taleban regime, was thought to be behind the murders of two foreign contractors working on a ring road.

Seven boys, two girls and a 25-year-old man were killed when two A-10 American planes fired rockets and bullets into a group of villagers sitting under a tree in the village of Hutala.

US officials said they were acting on extensive intelligence and had killed the mullah, but local Afghans told the BBC's Crispin Thorold the intended target had left the village 10 days earlier.

President Hamid Karzai has expressed his shock at the incident.

He said his government had sent a team of investigators to the scene and had also sent officials to ensure the victims' families were being helped.

The Afghan president said US forces should ensure that future operations were better co-ordinated with the Afghan Government to ensure such incidents would not happen again.

The United Nations has also condemned the incident as "profoundly distressing " and called for a swift inquiry.

US ground forces found the bodies of the children near that of the man thought to be the intended target, US military spokesman Major Christopher West said.

A commission has been formed to investigate the incident, he said, adding that the US military regretted the loss of innocent life.


On Monday, Colonel Hilferty said: "Such mistakes could make the Afghan people think ill of the coalition."

Senior US officers flew into the village on Sunday to offer condolences and help.

Smoke rises from Taleban and al-Qaeda positions in the hills of Sirkankel, Afghanistan after heavy US bombing, March 2002
Dec 2001: 65 killed in bombing of convoy of tribal elders
April 2002: Four Canadian soldiers killed
July 2002: 48 killed when bomb hits wedding party
April 2003: 11 killed by bomb in village of Shkin
Dec 2003: Nine children killed by bomb near Ghazni
*Mistakes accepted by US

They insisted they did not know the children were there when the attack was ordered.

But Sadokhan Ambarkhil, deputy governor of Paktika province, said such mistakes created great resentment.

"Every innocent who is killed has brothers, uncles, sisters and nephews - and behind them the tribe. If 10 people are killed, how many people are saddened?" he asked.

Saturday's bombing is the latest in a series of attacks by US-led forces which have resulted in the deaths of dozens of Afghan civilians since the start of the campaign against the Taleban and al-Qaeda in October 2001.

Although in many areas Afghans welcome the presence of American troops and other foreigners, there is hostility in some southern and eastern parts, our correspondent says.

The latest US offensive, "Operation Avalanche", will focus on crushing militants in the south and east.

"The new operation will deny sanctuary to and disrupt the activities of terrorist forces simultaneously," said Colonel Hilferty.

"This one is the largest we have ever designed," he said.

The BBC's Michael Voss
"The US has announced a major new military operation to combat the resurgent Taleban forces"

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