ISLAMABAD, Jan 4: US bombing raids on a suspected al-Qaeda base in eastern Afghanistan have killed 32 civilians in villages located nearby, the Afghan Islamic Press said Friday, citing witnesses in the area.

The news agency said at least 11 others wounded were brought to the Pakistani border town of Miran Shah which lies next to the town of Zhawar where the base is located.

It said local tribal elders had travelled to the Afghan city of Khost to appeal for an end to the bombardment which is aimed at wiping out remaining fighters of Osama bin Laden’s network.

“The bombing is very intense and very heavy. Many people have died. The United States should stop bombing. They are all civilians in this area,” Tani tribe elder Ghazi Nawaz Tani was quoted as saying.

The witnesses said the raids were continuing on Friday, making it hard to retrieve bodies. They warned the death toll could rise as the worst-affected villages, Kaskai and Khodyaki, were searched.

US officials have confirmed that warplanes launched an attack Thursday on the sprawling al-Qaeda leadership compound and training camp in eastern Paktia province.

SECOND BOMBING RAID: Attacking for the second time in as many days, US warplanes Friday bombed a compound with caves in eastern Afghanistan where al-Qaeda leaders were believed to be regrouping with their followers, US defence officials said in Washington.

B-52 and B-1 bombers, F/A-18 fighters and AC-130 gunships were used to strike the Zawar Kili compound near the Pakistani border for a second straight day, a spokesman for the US Central Command said.

“There was some activity observed and they decided to go in and restrike it,” said Victoria Clarke, the Pentagon’s chief spokesperson.

US warplanes had attacked the same compound on Thursday after US intelligence detected convoys and other information pointing to the presence of al-Qaeda leaders, Pentagon officials said.

The sprawling facility, which consists of a base camp, training area and a complex of caves, was struck by US cruise missiles in 1998 in a failed bid to kill Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader the US government suspects of masterminding the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

The latest attacks come amid an intense manhunt for bin Laden, who has eluded capture even though US commanders thought they had him cornered with al-Qaeda forces in the Tora Bora mountains south of Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan.

Clarke said US forces may be sent in to the bombed compound to see “what may have surfaced in that.”

“Al-Qaeda leadership have used this area in recent weeks as a regrouping and sanctuary area,” said Major Bill Harrison, a spokesman for the US Central Command in Tampa, Florida.—AFP

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