QALAYE NIAZI, Afghanistan (Reuters) - U.S. warplanes killed over 100 people in a raid on a village in eastern Afghanistan, residents said Monday, as British troops arrived in the capital to take up peacekeeping duties. At least one fighter jet, a B-52 bomber and two helicopters Sunday morning swooped on the village of Qalaye Niazi, about 2.5 miles north of the city of Gardez, capital of eastern Paktia province, villager Janat Gul told Reuters.
Paktia province is where U.S. forces have been carrying out operations against remnants of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network and Taliban fighters still on the run.
``There are no al Qaeda or Taliban people here,'' said Gul, referring to the group blamed for the September 11 attacks in the United States, and the former government which sheltered it.
The raid seemed sure to stir up tensions between factions in Afghanistan's interim administration which want the U.S. bombing campaign, under way since October 7, to halt, and those who believe it should continue.
The Defense Ministry, headed by General Mohammad Fahim, says the bombing should end as soon as possible while Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah said Sunday that ``the campaign will continue for as long as it takes to finish the terrorists.''
There are also tensions within the administration, headed by Hamid Karzai, over the role of foreign forces on Afghan soil. But an advance column of about 50 British troops drove into Kabul Monday to take up peacekeeping duties, the vanguard of an international security force that was agreed with the new government. The new administration and Britain have initialed an agreement on deployment of the force, authorized by the U.N. Security Council to fill the security vacuum in Afghanistan after the collapse of the Taliban, a British official said on Monday. The force is eventually expected to number 3,000.
Paktia province borders Pakistan and is southwest of the jagged canyons of Tora Bora -- one of the last stands of al Qaeda fighters. It was heavily bombed in early December when bin Laden was believed to be hiding there. At least 12 houses in Qalaye Niazi were razed. Amid the destruction, a Reuters Television cameraman saw scraps of flesh, pools of blood and clumps of what appeared to be human hair. Huge craters had been blasted out by the strike. A member of the local tribal shura, or council, said they had invited U.S. forces to the village to see the damage and to find out what had happened.
In the U.S., Major Pete Mitchell -- a spokesman for U.S. Central Command -- said: ``We are aware of the incident and we are currently investigating.''
Reuters passed several four-wheel drive vehicles containing U.S. forces, accompanied by soldiers of the Northern Alliance which took Kabul in November, at the Tira Pass, apparently en route to the village. They refused to allow photographs or to speak to reporters.
The Pentagon believes remnants of al Qaeda and the Taliban may be still in Paktia. Several raids have been carried out there in the last few days.
One of the most deadly took place just two days before the inauguration of the new government, when U.S. jets hit a convoy carrying tribal elders and guests to the ceremony in Kabul.
Some 65 people were killed in that attack, and interim leader Hamid Karzai has told tribal elders that he would ask the Americans to cut back their raids in the region.
With bin Laden, the main target of the U.S. war on terrorism, still at large and possibly hiding in Afghanistan, U.S. troops were on their guard throughout the country.
In the south, Marines prepared to hand over to arriving U.S. paratroopers a Kandahar airport facility, including a detention camp where detained Taliban members and al Qaeda fighters are being interrogated as to his whereabouts.
The Pentagon said the deployment of paratroopers from the 101st Airborne Division in southern Afghanistan would free Marines operating there for unspecified duties, possibly to join the hunt for bin Laden.
Copyright 2001 Reuters Ltd.