KABUL, Afghanistan, Dec. 8 — The United States military admitted Monday that it might not have succeeded in killing a Taliban suspect in an air assault on a village on Saturday that left nine children and one man dead.
Soldiers entering the village in southern Ghazni Province after the attack found the body of the man along with the dead children. Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty, spokesman at the American military headquarters at Bagram Air Base north of Kabul, told reporters, "We're still working to identify him."
He conceded that villagers had said the dead man was not Mullah Wazir, who is accused by United States officials of being behind several kidnappings and attacks on construction workers on a big American-financed road project. Villagers told journalists on Sunday that the dead man was Abdul Muhammad, 25, who had returned from working in Iran 10 days before.
The commander of the American-led coalition force, Brig. Gen. Lloyd Austin, has appointed a team of military policemen, doctors, a lawyer and a nurse to investigate the deaths, Colonel Hilferty said. The military will also provide aid to the village, he said.
The deaths of so many children in the attack has shocked Afghans and foreign officials. The United Nations has called for a swift investigation and for the findings to be made public. The United Nations spokesman in Kabul, Manoel de Almeida e Silva, said the deaths would have a "negative impact" on the population, who are already unhappy with the presence of foreign military forces.
The United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, expressed his "profound sadness" at the deaths, and warned that the fight against terrorism "cannot be won at the expense of innocent lives."
His special envoy in Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, said the "incident, which follows similar incidents, adds to a sense of insecurity and fear in the country."
The American military is pressing ahead with its objectives, however, announcing Monday that it had 2,000 soldiers out on its biggest operation ever against elements of the Taliban and Al Qaeda across a wide swath of the country. Colonel Hilferty called it a "new tactical combat operation" to "deny sanctuary to and disrupt the activities of terrorist forces simultaneously throughout the eastern, southeastern and southern regions of Afghanistan."
The American-led coalition, which numbers some 11,500 in Afghanistan, had only just finished a three-week operation in the northeast involving 1,000 men across some of the toughest mountainous terrain.
The latest operation is clearly timed to keep the Taliban and other anticoalition militants on the defense as delegates from all over the country gather in Kabul for the grand council, or loya jirga, to approve a new constitution. The council of 500 representatives is set to convene Saturday.
Security officials say members of the Taliban could strike in any way, threatening or attacking delegates traveling to the loya jirga, or turning to urban terrorism, with bombs like the one in Kandahar on Saturday that wounded 18 people.
Colonel Hilferty suggested that the Taliban, under military pressure from the coalition, were shifting tactics from confronting soldiers to attacking peaceful citizens like aid workers and construction workers.www.nytimes.com/2003/12/09/international/asia/09AFGH.htmlE-mail this article