KABUL, Dec 31: Afghan villagers said on Monday an American air strike killed more than 100 civilians as United States forces combed rugged mountain terrain for Osama bin Laden.

A cameraman in the stricken village in eastern Paktia province said he could see huge craters blasted by bombs. Amid the destruction were scraps of flesh, pools of blood and clumps of what appeared to be human hair.

A US military spokesman said the incident in Qala-i-Niazi, about four kilometres north of the provincial capital Gardez, was under investigation.

One jet, one B-52 bomber and two helicopters took part in the devastating attack.

Residents said up to 107 people had been killed, many of them women and children.

Asked about the report, Major Pete Mitchell, a spokesman for US Central Command in Tampa, Florida, said: “We are aware of the incident and we are currently investigating.”

Word of the killings came just three days after new Afghan Defence Minister Mohammad Fahim appealed for an end to US bombing raids, which had already been blamed for hundreds, possibly thousands, of civilian deaths.

General Fahim said there was no point in continuing the attacks as Osama had probably fled to Pakistan and his Al Qaeda network of fighters had dispersed.

In Qala-i-Niazi, an official of the local tribal Shura said US troops had been invited to view the destruction. Eyewitnesses saw American troops and Northern Alliance forces en route to the village.

Paktia province borders Pakistan and is southwest of the jagged canyons of Tora Bora, where many Al Qaeda fighters made a last stand.—Reuters

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