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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

UN Report Contradicts U.S. Over Airstrike on Wedding

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan -- The U.S. military on Monday denied covering up evidence of air strikes against an Afghan village on July 1 that locals say killed dozens of people celebrating a wedding. The Times newspaper in London said a draft UN report found the United States may have hidden evidence related to the attack, which enraged Afghans who saw it as an unprovoked strike on defenseless civilians.

"No coverup is involved at all," said Roger King, a U.S. military spokesman at Bagram Air Base just north of Kabul.

A preliminary United Nations report into the incident, based on a fact-finding trip on July 3-4, raised a series of questions about the accuracy of U.S. accounts and pegged the death toll at 80 and the number of injured at up to 200. Afghanistan has since said 48 civilians were killed and 117 wounded, well in excess of comments by the Pentagon, which says its investigators found only five graves at the site.

It is not clear whether the Times story was referring to the preliminary UN report or a subsequent one, but the original UN findings make uncomfortable reading for the United States.

The bombing in the rugged region of Uruzgan in central Afghanistan was a public relations disaster for the United States, which has tried to win over broad Afghan support for its self-styled war on terror.

"The mission estimated the number of dead/civilian casualties at around 80 persons (plus or minus 20)," the UN report said.

It was also unable to corroborate U.S. statements that the AC-130 gunship involved had come under surface-to-air fire, explaining that it found no destroyed weaponry or ammunition at the scene of the attack. The Pentagon has long insisted the gunship came under direct hostile fire, although preliminary reports had suggested a ground patrol may first have heard automatic weapons fire.

Afghans have reported that civilians were gunned down in the midst of a wedding celebration, during which it is traditional to shoot guns in the air. The UN quoted witnesses saying there had been no firing at all at the two events known about in the area at the time -- a wedding and an engagement -- due to the late hour. The attacks came between midnight and 4 a.m. local time, the report said.

It also raised doubts about the accuracy of U.S. intelligence on the threat from the ground in the village that suffered the worst damage.