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U.S. denies bombs hit Afghan villages

injured man
Doctors said this man was one of the survivors of the U.S. raid in eastern Afghanistan.  

JALALABAD, Afghanistan (CNN) -- The U.S. Central Command Saturday denied claims that U.S. bombs dropped in airstrikes Friday killed 50 Afghan villagers and injured five others near Tora Bora in eastern Afghanistan, a region of extensive cave and tunnel complexes.

Nangarhar province security chief Hazrat Ali said the bombs landed in two villages, Talkhel and Balut, near the remote area of Tora Bora, where some reports have indicated al Qaeda leaders -- including Osama bin Laden -- are hiding. Tora Bora, located about 35 miles (60 km) south of Jalalabad near the Pakistan border, has been confirmed by U.S. officials as a target in the ongoing air war. Ali is an ally of the opposition Northern Alliance.

The U.S. Central Command reported Saturday morning that overnight raids took place near Jalalabad, but said it's not true that U.S. bombs hit the villages in question.

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"We've reviewed all means available," said Maj. Brad Lowell, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command. "We had good imagery on these. We saw the weapons hit their targets, which were cave and tunnel systems. There were no buildings in view to depict or suggest residential areas."

Lowell would not say specifically what means were used. In the past, the Pentagon has used nose cone video and video from guided weapons for analysis. He said U.S. warplanes conducted bombing runs early Friday morning.

"We had good imagery from the bombing runs," Lowell said. "The rounds fired in the area were on target and have all been accounted for." He asked CENTCOM officials to review imagery as far back as Thursday.

The United States holds al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden responsible for the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, which killed nearly 4,000 people.

Lowell said a similar review of imagery led U.S. military officials to discount earlier reports that errant bombing had destroyed the village of Kama Ado, some 30 miles south of Jalalabad. Those reports quoted eyewitnesses who said between 100 and 200 civilians had died. Lowell said the imagery showed the target of U.S. aircraft was more than 20 miles away, and not near the village in question. He said the cave compounds targeted by coalition aircraft are in areas of mountainous wilderness and not near large, populated areas.

Earlier, CNN's Brent Sadler visited a hospital in Jalalabad where doctors said two boys, ages 8 and 10, were among the five injured as a result of the bombings near Tora Bora. One of the boys lost both his hands and is said to be in critical condition.

Northern Alliance Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah said Saturday that he believes al Qaeda fighters were in the area but not bin Laden. Abdullah said opposition forces have information suggesting bin Laden was in hiding near Kandahar and "his people are active still."

"I think they are planning to move toward the mountainous areas of Qalat, Zabol province as well as Kandahar, so they are making preparations for guerrilla warfare," Abdullah said.

Sources in Kandahar said the city was under round-the-clock bombardment Friday but saw no sign of an advance by anti-Taliban forces. Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that U.S. commanders are unsure how many Taliban fighters remain in the city.

"There has not yet been a major ground offensive battle," Pace said Friday. "There are, we know, negotiations going on between the opposition forces and the Taliban leadership for surrender. "

In addition, about 1,000 U.S. Marines are stationed at a base southwest of Kandahar, putting additional pressure on the remaining Taliban forces.

In another development, the U.S. Central Command denied Saturday that Taliban forces had shot down a U.S. warplane near Kandahar. The Taliban report came from Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan.

"All planes are accounted for," said Sgt. Maj. Rich Czizik, a Central Command spokesman.

CNN Correspondents Brent Sadler, Ben Wedeman and Jonathan Aiken contributed to this report.


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