WASHINGTON – The Afghan village where residents say 44 civilians were killed by a U.S. air assault contained an active anti-aircraft gun, Pentagon officials said.
U.S. soldiers had identified the anti-aircraft gun and five others as part of a larger, weekslong operation targeting Taliban fighters, Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold said Wednesday.
Some of the hundreds of U.S., Afghan and coalition troops in the area had fought gunbattles with enemy forces in the days and weeks before Monday's raid, he said. All six sites attacked by the U.S. AC-130 gunship Monday had anti-aircraft guns that were shooting at the plane, Newbold said.
He said coalition forces also took several prisoners in connection with Monday's raid in an area of central Uruzgan province known to shelter Taliban fighters and sympathizers.
Newbold and Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke told reporters it was too early to tell whether the U.S. attacks killed and injured civilians. Afghan officials and area residents say 44 civilians were killed and 100 or more injured in the early morning assault.
Clarke said Wednesday evening that a U.S.-Afghan investigation team reported seeing evidence of damage and some blood but no bodies or graves.
``We just don't have enough information to believe or disbelieve anything at this point,'' she said.
U.S. military doctors and psychiatrists have visited and offered to help care for 21 wounded Afghans, Newbold said. Four of the wounded are being treated in Bagram and 17 in the southern city of Kandahar, he said.
Residents of the village of Kakarak told a U.S.-Afghan investigation team Wednesday that the American assault hit a compound where a wedding celebration was being held. The Afghans said the compound contained no weapons. They showed the investigators and reporters blood and other remains, saying the dead had been quickly buried, according to their customs.
Maj. Gary Tallman, a spokesman for the investigation team, said an anti-aircraft gun was firing from inside the compound when the AC-130 attacked. The same gun had fired at U.S. reconnaissance planes during the previous two days in coordination with other anti-aircraft guns in the area, Tallman said.
He acknowledged that no wreckage of an anti-aircraft gun had been found in the compound at Kakarak.
U.S. soldiers had observed and pinpointed the six anti-aircraft sites before the AC-130 flew into the area, Newbold said. American spotters also identified several Taliban caves and bunkers with fighting emplacements in front of them that were bombed by a B-52 jet Monday, Newbold said.
No U.S. or coalition forces were wounded in the battles before Monday's attack, but U.S. soldiers believe some Taliban fighters were wounded or killed, Newbold said.
After Monday's attack, U.S. forces found a cache of 15 tons of ammunition, including anti-aircraft weapons, about 10 miles away, Newbold said.
The AC-130, a kind of flying artillery battery, has been used extensively in the war in Afghanistan. It's armed with a howitzer that fires 105 mm artillery shells, a 40 mm cannon and either two 20 mm guns or one 25 mm gun.