Afghan tribal leaders call for end to bombing
By John Vause
KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Tribal leaders from eastern Afghanistan are calling for an immediate end to the bombing in their province, stemming from a dispute on the target of a U.S. airstrike last week.
The tribal leaders from the Paktia province made their request during a press conference Thursday in the Afghan capital. The request was prompted by a U.S. airstrike last week on a convoy in the province.
The Pentagon said the convoy contained al Qaeda or Taliban leaders. But tribesman from Paktia province, where the bombing took place, say only tribal elders were killed while traveling to the December 22 ceremony to swear in the members of the interim Afghan government.
"In the convoy there were no al Qaeda members," said Abdul Hakim Munir, a member of the Paktia tribal council. "They were the elders of Paktia and Khost provinces and they came to Kabul in order to congratulate the new government."
Munir said the convoy was forced to take back roads to Kabul because the main road was blocked by a rival group.
But the Pentagon reiterated that the convoy was a legitimate target, saying the military had intelligence it was an al Qaeda convoy, and that the convoy fired first. The new Afghan minister for border affairs backs the Pentagon's claim.
"We have nothing to indicate anything other than what we said before, in that convoy was, again, leadership that was involved in this war on terrorism," said Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at Wednesday's Pentagon media briefing.
U.S. airstrikes have lessened since the Taliban fell from power, although aircraft are still flying reconnaissance missions and can launch airstrikes when called upon. On Wednesday, an airstrike hit a compound near Ghazni that Pentagon officials said belonged the Taliban's minister of intelligence.
The tribesmen are demanding an immediate end to the bombing of their province, and say they met with Hamid Karzai, the newly installed chairman of the interim Afghan government. The leaders said Karzai has promised to push the United States.
A spokesman for Karzai says he is not aware that any meeting took place but the interim government has been reluctant to talk about who was in the convoy.
Asked if the government was conducting its own investigation, interim Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah said the government has people looking in the situation and would have an answer "when they have an answer."
The Paktia tribesmen also said there are no more terrorists in their province but both the United States and the Afghan government do not agree with their claim.
Earlier this week, Karzai said terrorism has been "largely defeated" in Afghanistan and vowed to be vigilant against letting it and its backers re-emerge as a force in the country. He promised to eradicate terrorism and its supporters in Afghanistan and help the world community defeat them elsewhere.
"I am absolutely determined that we will fight terrorism, and I am absolutely sure and so are my friends and the Cabinet and the people from Afghanistan that there's no way, absolutely no way, that we can allow Afghanistan to be made the home of terrorism or (be used) for terrorism anymore," he said in a broadcast interview.
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