MARGARET WARNER: A joint U.S.-Afghan team set off today to investigate yesterday's attack on civilians in central Afghanistan. Confusion surrounds the most basic questions: How many died, how they died, and where they died, in one or several villages in a mountainous province about 175 miles southwest of the capital Kabul.
The story from some survivors, who were taken to a hospital in Kandahar, was that U.S. military planes attacked a wedding party in the village of Kakarak, killing scores of people and injuring many others, including women and children. One villager said the U.S. planes may have attacked in response to villagers who fired weapons in the air during the wedding celebration.
Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah said today he'd been told four villages were attacked, and he demanded that the U.S. take "all necessary measures" to avoid civilian casualties.
ABDULLAH, Foreign Minister, Afghanistan: It will not be acceptable for the people of Afghanistan if that becomes a pattern. Civilians are civilians, and we have the responsibility to protect them, while the coalition forces, which are supportive of our efforts, which are helping us, they should also take strong measures in order to make sure that civilians are not harmed.
MARGARET WARNER: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld began today's Pentagon briefing by expressing regret for the casualties.
DONALD RUMSFELD: Let me say that anytime there is the loss of an innocent life, for whatever reason, it is a tragedy. And certainly, the commander on the ground has expressed regret for any innocent loss of life.
MARGARET WARNER: Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman General Peter Pace said they didn't yet know what had happened, but did say that there were two U.S. operations going on at the time of the attacks.
GEN. PETER PACE, Vice-Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff: What we do know right now, at least the first reports, which may change, are that there was a B-52 that was flying a mission about that time. It did drop seven precision-guided munitions. They were being spotted and controlled by a forward air controller on the ground, who saw the impacts of the seven weapons.
There was also an AC-130 flying missions in that area. It had been responding also to a forward air controller on the ground, who had been directing fires against anti-aircraft weapons that had been firing up at the AC-130. Those are the facts that we know right now.
MARGARET WARNER: General Pace was asked what safeguards U.S. forces taking fire were supposed to observe to avoid killing civilians.
GEN. PETER PACE: If a U.S. military unit is taking fire, they may... they have the absolute right of inherent self-defense to return fire. And I do not know which of these is true: If the ground observer observed fire going toward the airplane and reported that to the airplane, and then the airplane returned fire; or if the airplane saw that it was being fired on and returned fire. Either one of those would be consistent with established procedures.
REPORTER: Was the aircraft hit, sir? The A.C.-130? Was it hit?
GEN. PETER PACE: It was not.
MARGARET WARNER: Rumsfeld repeatedly cautioned that the Pentagon didn't yet have the full picture.
DONALD RUMSFELD: What General Pace is telling you is what he knows from talking to people who've been in touch with the people on the ground and in the air. What we do not know is the information that will be gained by talking to non-U.S. forces who were on the ground.
MARGARET WARNER: Rumsfeld said the on the ground investigation could take another day or two.