WASHINGTON – A U.S. bomb missed its target in Afghanistan by a mile Saturday because one of the target coordinates was entered incorrectly into its satellite navigation system, a Defense Department official said.
A Navy F/A-18 Hornet dropped the 2,000-pound guided bomb in the early morning hours over Kabul, intending to hit a military helicopter at Kabul's airport. Instead, the bomb hit a residential neighborhood a mile away.
A Pentagon statement said ground reports indicated that four people were killed and eight injured; U.S. officials said they had no way to confirm the number of casualties.
The error happened when someone entered the wrong digit for one of the helicopter's coordinates into the bomb's Global Positioning System, a Defense Department official said on condition of anonymity.
The bomb was a Joint Direct Attack Munition, or JDAM, meaning it was fitted with a $21,000 tail section containing the satellite guidance system. The military developed the system after the Gulf War to help guide bombs to their targets in bad weather, darkness or other adverse conditions. The guided bombs can be dropped from as high as 45,000 feet — far above the range of Taliban anti-aircraft guns and Stinger missiles — and up to 15 miles away from their targets.
Four destroyed houses could be seen in the neighborhood near the airport.
"We have no way to rebuild our homes," said Mohammed Shoaib, whose house was one of those wrecked. "What will we do?"
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said the military is trying hard to avoid civilian casualties. Saturday's Defense Department statement said the department regretted the loss of any civilian life.
Killing civilians could undermine support for the anti-terrorism mission from Muslim countries. Unconfirmed Taliban reports of hundreds of civilian deaths from the U.S. raids have helped fuel anti-American demonstrations in Pakistan and other Muslim countries.
Military officials have said the airstrikes are becoming increasingly focused on "targets of opportunity" that pilots spot from the air, such as aircraft parked on the ground or convoys of troops for the Taliban, the militia sheltering suspected terrorist Usama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda network.
U.S. planes returned to Kabul Saturday evening, firing seven missiles at targets in the northern part of Kabul. Heavy smoke was seen from the area of the airport. The private Afghan Islamic Press also reported attacks against a military base outside Kandahar, the southern city home to the Taliban's headquarters.
Meanwhile, the State Department announced arrangements to expand American troop operations near the Afghan border, but a British official involved in the anti-terrorism campaign said there was no plan for "swarms and swarms of troops all over Afghanistan."
"There will be some activity," said Clare Short, Britain's secretary for international development. But, she added in an interview with BBC radio, "There isn't going to be a mass land invasion."
Under a new agreement with Uzbekistan, the United States pledged to protect the security of the former Soviet republic on Afghanistan's northern border — in exchange for permission for the U.S. military to use an Uzbekistan air base about 90 miles from the Afghan border.