KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — A U.N. report allegedly accusing U.S. forces of removing evidence from the scene of a July 1 air strike where civilians died was inaccurate, President Hamid Karzai said today.
"The U.N. report was not correct," Karzai said after arriving for a meeting with Kandahar Gov. Gul Agha Sherzai. "Lots of people had much misinformation. The second report, the official report, will be much more accurate."
Karzai refused to identify the purported inaccuracies in the U.N. report on the air strike on Kakarak and nearby villages in Uruzgan province. Afghans say 48 civilians were killed and 117 wounded when a U.S. Air Force AC-130 gunship, armed with cannons and howitzer artillery, pounded the villages with devastating fire.
Karzai, escorted by his U.S. special forces bodyguards, also declined to detail the report's conclusions.
The United Nations gave its preliminary report on the air strike to Afghan and U.S. authorities last week but refused to release it to the public.
However, The Times of London reported Monday that the initial draft concluded that American forces may have removed evidence after the attack and violated human rights. U.S. officials denied the allegations.
In New York, U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard confirmed that the initial findings had been leaked.
Afghans said the dead included 25 members of an extended family attending a wedding celebration. U.S. officials acknowledge that civilians died but have refused to accept the Afghan casualty figures pending completion of their own investigation.
Khaled Pashtoon, a spokesman for the Kandahar provincial government, said Karzai visited Kakarak and met with relatives of those killed before coming here. Pashtoon said the president wanted "to share his grief with people whose relatives had died."
The raid was especially difficult for Karzai, who relies heavily on U.S. support to remain in power. However, some of the dead were Karzai's allies during last year's fighting against the Taliban.
Karzai slipped into Uruzgan during the U.S. bombing campaign to organize opposition to the Taliban among his fellow ethnic Pashtuns, who formed the base of Taliban support.
U.S. officials said the air strike was part of an operation pursuing Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, who was believed to have been in the area.
Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld said video from the AC-130 gunship that struck the village shows gunfire from the ground. But it was difficult to tell from the nighttime video whether anti-aircraft guns were being fired at the plane.
U.S. military officials insisted that U.S.-led teams on the ground saw anti-aircraft fire directed at U.S. planes before the attack. However, they said no trace of any anti-aircraft guns could be found when American forces inspected the area soon after the raid.