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2002-07-02

The U.S. Bombs a Wedding Party in Afghanistan; Death Toll Estimates Range Between 40 and 250

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US forces dropped a B-52 bomb on an Afghan wedding party early Monday morning, killing scores of civilians. This according to Afghan officials and area residents. US military officials have acknowledged that a bomb dropped in southern Afghanistan missed its target, but they would not confirm that a wedding party was attacked.

The London Independent says estimates put the number of deaths at more than 120, though one unconfirmed report said up to 250 had been killed. This would make it the worst loss of civilian life at US hands since the war began. Among those wounded was Haji Mohammed Anwar, a political ally of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and one of the first prominent local figures who rose up against the Taliban.

Reports were contradictory but the US forces apparently launched a two-hour assault involving a B-52 bomber and an AC-130 gunship after mistaking the wedding guests’ celebratory gunshots into the air early yesterday morning as hostile fire.

The U.S. military at Bagram air base issued a statement saying, "We extend our deepest sympathies to those who may have lost loved ones as a result of this incident and to those who may have suffered injuries." But another statement, issued by the Central Command, was more hesitant, saying only that the U.S. action "may have resulted in civilian casualties." It omitted any statement of regret or sympathy.

This is just the latest in a series of incidents in Afghanistan in which civilians have been killed by so-called "friendly fire". During the heaviest period of the bombing last fall, US bombs killed as many as 3,500 civilians.

Well, we are joined in the studio by Masuda Sultan and Rita Lasar, two women who have been lobbying congress to provide funds for Afghan victims of the US bombing. Masuda is an Afghan American woman who lost 19 members of her extended family in a US bombing raid last fall.

Guests:

  • Masuda Sultan, Afghan-American woman who lost 19 members of her family during US military strikes on Afghanistan.
  • Rita Lasar, who lost her brother Abe Zelmanowitz in the World Trade Center attack.

Tape:

  • Masuda Sultan, reporting from Afghanistan on December 27.

Guest:

  • Dr. Sima Samar, former Women’s Affairs minister of the Afghan government, speaking from Afghanistan.

Dr. Sima Samar served as the Minister for Women’s Affairs during the 6-month interim Afghan government. But president Hamid Karzai turned her down for the post in the new government after conservative religious factions launched a campaign of slander and intimidation against her. Dr. Samar received a summons on June 22 calling for her to appear before a Kabul court to face a blasphemy charge. A letter to the editor in the weekly newspaper, "Message of the Holy Warrior," had previously alleged that Sima Samar told a Canadian newspaper that she did not believe in Sharia, or Islamic law. The writer had demanded that she be given "appropriate punishment," and that judicial authorities carry out an investigation.

The court ultimately dropped the charges against Sima Samar after she complained to President Karzai. But she had already lost the position of Minister of Women’s Affairs.

This was not the first time Dr. Samar suffered intimidation from religious parties. She was among several female delegates at the loya jirga targeted by warlords and their representatives.

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