Afghans Say U.S. to Help Wedding Victims

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Protesters react to Afghan civilian casualties caused by the US

Although the U.S. military remains tight-lipped over any liability for the July 1 incident in which a number of Afghan villagers were killed at a wedding celebration in the remote mountain district of Deh Rawood during an American air attack on suspected Taliban positions nearby, Washington may be letting its money do the talking. "Verbally, at least, the Americans have admitted the attack was a mistake," says Afghan cabinet minister Mohammed Arif Noorzai, the man who headed the joint U.S.-Afghan investigation into the killings. And, he says, in a meeting earlier this week with Afghan officials in Kabul they did much more than that — they promised cash to allow the victims to be compensated.

Noorzai says when General Dan K. McNeill, the U.S. commander of operations in Afghanistan, and the American ambassador Robert Finn came to President Hamid Karzai's office they brought with them guarantees of massive assistance. "It's not compensation as such," says Karzai's spokesman Fazel Akbar. "It's support of the nation." This support consisted of $2 million dollars in cash to be given to Karzai. "There was the promise of cash aid but still we did not receive it," notes Akbar. The Minister Noorzai told TIME the money is to be distributed by the president "to the families affected by the bombing who have already suffered too much." As many as 48 people were believed killed and around 117 wounded in the incident.

The State Department won't say whether a cash payment is involved, but they will confirm some assistance is forthcoming. "We have decided to target some of the reconstruction assistance in that area," says State spokesman Richard Boucher. Afghan officials say villagers in the Deh Rawood district are soon to be the beneficiaries of a number of building and rehabilitation projects. American drilling teams are scheduled to dig much-needed deep wells at twelve district schools, and two high schools in the province's capital, Tarin Kowt, are to be renovated, as well as a small hospital in the dusty district where the raid went wrong. Also, a 50-mile road linking Tarin Kowt with the southern city of Kandahar will be built, reducing the journey from a tortuous five hours to less than 60 minutes. Aid to the area will also include completion of a large bridge spanning one of Uruzgan province's major rivers, a project begun by the Taliban regime but which today is marked only by a parade of concrete pylons across the riverbed. Most importantly, says Noorzai, Uruzgan dam will reach its full capacity with additional U.S.-financed construction. Not only does he expect the dam to fill the irrigation channels of local farmers currently being encouraged to switch from opium to corn and wheat, but it will be capable of generating hydro-electric power, much like Kajaki dam in neighboring Helmand province. "By starting these projects," says Noorzai, "some of the people of this province who are jobless will find work which will obviously be good for the economy."

U.S. embassy officials in Kabul declined to comment despite TIME's inquiries. But for an area of Afghanistan where hold-out Taliban commanders still roam free — among them, it is believed, the fundamentalist movement's leader, Mullah Omar — U.S. contributions in bricks and mortar may be the best bet of bringing the locals in from the cold.