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Wednesday, 13 March, 2002, 05:17 GMT
US admits killing Afghan civilians
US soldiers in eastern Afghanistan
The killings happened during a US operation in the east
The US military has admitted killing women and children in an air strike in Afghanistan a week ago.

The killings happened in an attack apparently linked to the major operation against al-Qaeda and Taleban strongholds in the east of the country.

The Shikin area is a suspected sanctuary for the al-Qaeda and Taleban and the personnel in this vehicle were believed to be linked to al-Qaeda activities

US statement
This brief statement is the first admission by the US military that some women and children have been killed in the major US offensive, Operation Anaconda, which is continuing in eastern Afghanistan.

The military's central command, which controls the Afghan operation, said two American fighter jets attacked a vehicle in the area on the morning of 6 March.

'Taleban sanctuary'

The central command statement said the incident happened near Shikin, in Paktia province, near the Pakistan border.

"The Shikin area is a suspected sanctuary for the al-Qaeda and Taleban and the personnel in this vehicle were believed to be linked to al-Qaeda activities," the statement said.

Fourteen people were killed, most them adult men, but some women and children.

According to the military, a child was also wounded and is now recovering in hospital.

A central command spokesman, Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Martin Compton, said he did not know if all 15 were civilians and whether they were Afghans.

Late disclosure

Reports from the area have suggested that many al-Qaeda and Taleban fighters who have gathered there have taken their families with them but this is the first mention by the United States of possible civilian casualties.

The US Department of Defense has consistently refused to disclose specific numbers of casualties among the al-Qaeda and Taleban in Operation Anaconda.

Earlier on Tuesday, Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said she had no information indicating that women or children might have died in the operation.

Asked why the incident was not publicised earlier, Colonel Compton said American military officials needed time to piece together the information before disclosing the incident.

The BBC's Susannah Price
"The Americans have dropped 100 bombs in 24 hours"
See also:

12 Mar 02 | South Asia
Afghan battle 'over'
11 Mar 02 | South Asia
Afghan forces gather for final push
11 Mar 02 | South Asia
Taleban a spent force - Karzai
12 Mar 02 | South Asia
Afghan battle lines shift
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