Afghan officials have said that at least eight innocent nomads, including women and children, died in a US air strike.

Two Taliban guerrillas, including commander Muhammad Gul Neyazi, in Zabul province, were also wiped out in the military action last Wednesday. 

US military spokesman Colonel Rodney Davis could not confirm the death of any non-combatants in the raid, he told Aljazeera.net by email.

"As always we take such matters seriously and we are conducting an investigation," he said, adding that he did not know how long it would take.

"The coalition has conducted combat operations in Afghanistan with great care for two years and we always do everything possible to avoid harming non-combatants," he said.

Precision bombs

Critics claim the US has killed hundreds of non-combatants in so-called precision bombing raids as well as numerous civilians with more conventional weaponry during the two year conflict in Afghanistan. 

Since the start of August, more than 280 people have been killed in the destitute country and scores more wounded. These include civilians, Afghan aid workers, police and militiamen, three American soldiers and scores of Taliban guerrillas.

Last year, on 1 July, a US plane mistakenly targeted a house full of wedding guests, killing at least 48 of them, and injuring 117 when a US AC-130 plane opened fire, according to the Afghan government. The bombing took place at 1am in a village in the rugged and mountainous central region of Oruzgan, 105 miles north of the southern city of Kandahar.

Survivors of the attack said several guests had been firing their machine guns into the air, as is traditional in Pashtun wedding ceremonies. The US air patrol mistook this for an attack and responded with devastating force.

Pentagon officials conceded that one bomb dropped on the village of Kakarak was “errant". But a  US investigation concluded that the air crew were justified in attacking because they had come under fire.

More mistakes

Afghan towns lie in ruins after decades of war

In May 2002, 11 members of another wedding party were killed in a similar incident in the village of Balkhiel, 30 miles north of the town of Khost, local Afghans reported.

Again the guests were bombed after firing celebratory salvoes into the air. Again US officials insisted their planes had come under enemy attack.

Mistakes of this kind are undermining America’s stated aim of winning the hearts and minds of local people so that a stable and prosperous Afghanistan can be built.

In perhaps the most shocking episode, 11 Afghan children were killed in an air strike on their home in Paktika by Americans hunting for Usama bin Ladin in April this year.

One grieving mother, who lost all of her nine children, told reporters she had been given less than $10,000 in blood and hush money along with an apology from the US.
 
The payment of $10,000 for the lives of nine Afghan children stands in stark contrast to that received by the families of the victims of the 11 September attacks, who have been given as much as $1 million each for their lost loved ones. 

Colonel Davis told Aljazeera that he was not aware of the Paktika payment, but that compensation to civilians for damages, injury or death would not be paid if they resulted from "combat activities", apart from in the exceptional case of aircraft accident or malfunction while going to a mission or coming back.

"As of now, the coalition's claims office in Afghanistan has paid out over $58,000 in foreign claims payments," he said, noting that claims were also made to the "higher headquarters", or the Pentagon.

Taliban claims successes

Meanwhile, the resurgent Taliban has claimed to be in control of four districts in southeast Afghanistan and have formed four committees to organise "resistance" to US-led forces, even while being petitioned by the CIA to negotiate.

The Taliban has demanded that the US should:

  • release Taliban prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay
  • stop referring to Taliban members as terrorists
  • announce that talks with the Taliban were the US' idea.

"Our military victories have come after declarations by (Afghan President) Hamid Karzai's puppet government that they were ejected from Zabul, Kandahar, Helmand and Uruzgan provinces," Hamid Agha, who identified himself as the new spokesman for the 'Taliban Islamic Movement,' told The News daily by satellite phone.

"We have struck back and will continue to show our presence all over Afghanistan," he was quoted as saying.

CIA invites Taliban to talk

Vexed by the slow progress of the US military campaign against the Taliban, the CIA has tried a new approach, according to both a former Taliban member and a retired Pakistani intelligence agent.

CIA operatives in Kandahar delivered a letter requesting talks to former Taliban Interior Minister Mullah Abd al-Razzaq, who is thought to be hiding in Afghanistan, the sources told Time magazine.

After consulting with the Taliban military council, possibly including the leader in hiding, Mullah Muhammad Omar, Razzaq responded with three conditions.

First he demanded that the US should release Taliban prisoners held without charge in Guantanamo Bay - Cuba, secondly, that it stops referring to Taliban members as terrorists and lastly that it announces that talks with the Taliban came at Washington's request.

The ex-Taliban source says the CIA refused. "But they agreed to telephone links," he added.

US officials in Kabul denied having any contact with the Taliban.