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Children at play die in US terror chase

Kabul, Dec. 7 (Reuters): US forces killed nine children in a weekend air strike they said was meant for an Afghan guerrilla commander.

The children were playing yesterday in the walled compound of a house at Makur, 85 km southwest of the town of Ghazni when the US A-10 aircraft attacked with gunfire.

The US military voiced regret for the incident.

A statement from US military spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Bryan Hilferty regretted the loss of innocent life and s aid the “tragic incident” was being investigated.

The military said their bodies were found by troops of the US-led force near that of a “known terrorist”.

The US ambassador identified the man as Mullah Wazir, a local figure who bragged of attacks on aid workers, but Afghan officials disputed the assertion Mullah Wazir was killed.

“It has not been ascertained if Mullah Wazir was killed or not, but the house was his,” said Haji Assadullah, governor of Ghazni province.

Officials also said two Indians were abducted by suspected Taliban fighters in a southern province yesterday, while two Turkish labourers detained by an Afghan chieftain over a land dispute were freed today, Turkish officials said.

Initially authorities believed the Turks, taking part in a well-digging project, had been snatched by Taliban guerrillas or their allies when they disappeared on Friday near the village of Khake Jabar, about 25 km east of Kabul.

The UN said it was “profoundly distressed” by the children’s deaths, which it said could have a negative impact among Afghans in the troubled south.

It called for a swift investigation and for the results to be made public.

“This incident, which follows similar incidents, adds to a sense of insecurity and fear in the country,” UN special representative Lakhdar Brahimi said in a statement.

US-led forces have been pursuing remnants of the Taliban overthrown in late 2001 along with Islamic militant allies including members of Osama bin Laden’s al Qaida network, blamed by Washington for the September 11 attacks on US cities, among others.

The US ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, said Mullah Wazir was “a known financier, organiser and facilitator of terrorist activity” involved in attacks on Afghans working on the Kabul-Kandahar highway and aid workers.

Hours after the strike, suspected Taliban guerrillas kidnapped two Indians working on a US-funded road in neighbouring Zabul province.

Interior minister Ali Ahmad Jalali said Taliban commander Mullah Roazi, responsible for kidnapping a Turkish road engineer in late October, had been in a village close to where the Indians were abducted, but he did not know if Roazi was to blame.

The kidnapping of the Indians was yet another blow to the single largest reconstruction scheme in Afghanistan, a road project which has been hit by a wave of deadly attacks.

The deaths of the children will likely add to the problems Washington has faced winning hearts and minds in the troubled south, where militants are most active, ahead of elections due next year.

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