11 September 2001>News Stories>U.S. Says Afghan Convoy Still Seems 'Valid' Target

U.S. Says Afghan Convoy Still Seems 'Valid' Target

By Reuters . NYTimes . 23 December

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. military on Sunday repeated its position that a convoy it bombed in Afghanistan had been a ''valid'' target, despite accounts from survivors and witnesses that it had been carrying tribal elders to Hamid Karzai's swearing-in as the new Afghan leader.

The U.S. Central Command, which is running the campaign in Afghanistan sparked by the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, is looking into the survivors' reports, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Davis said.

``But everything that they've seen so far indicates that what they struck was a valid target -- that it was a Taliban convoy,'' he said. ``And we have nothing at this point to substantiate that it was otherwise.''

The Tampa, Florida-based Central Command itself did not return repeated requests for comment.

Residents of Asmani Kilai in eastern Paktia province said the strikes, lasting seven hours from Thursday night into Friday, killed 50 to 60 people and destroyed 15 vehicles from a convoy of tribal elders bound for Kabul for the inauguration Saturday of Afghanistan's interim government.

U.S. officials have insisted the convoy opened fire on U.S. aircraft just before it was bombed and had been carrying leaders of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network, making it a legitimate military target.

But Haji Yaqub Khan Tanaiwal, 65, told Reuters from his bed in Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar, capital of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province, that no one in the convoy had fired on U.S. warplanes.

``This is a cover. I never heard a single shot fired from the convoy,'' he said, adding that none of the group was a member of the fundamentalist militia crushed by weeks of U.S. air strikes.

``All in the convoy were supporters of the new administration,'' he said.

Army Gen. Tommy Franks, head of the Central Command, said Saturday in Kabul after the swearing-in ceremony: ``I will tell you, having been in touch with my headquarters, that at this point we believe it was a good target.''