Afghan civilians mourn dead in Kabul : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread


KABUL, Afghanistan (October 9, 2001 9:17 p.m. EDT) - In the rubble of what had been an unassuming two-story building on Kabul's outskirts, Mohammed Afzl cried Tuesday for his brother - one of the first four confirmed civilian casualties of the U.S.-led air war against the Taliban and Osama bin Laden.

"My brother is buried under there," he said, watching bulldozers clear the remains of the offices of a U.N.-funded mine-clearing agency where the victims worked as guards.

The building in a quiet district of vegetable fields on the edge of the capital was less than 400 yards away from anti-aircraft batteries and a communication tower struck in U.S. raids Monday night. In Washington, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said it was not clear whether the building was hit by a U.S. missile or by anti-aircraft fire.

"What can we do?" Afzl said, still crying as he recounted how he had begged his brother to spend the night with family instead of guarding the empty building. "Our lives are ruined."

Nearing the end of the third day of airstrikes, a spokesman for Osama bin Laden broadcast a tough statement declaring that the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States were a "storm of planes" and that the men who hijacked them "did something good."

"America must know that the storm of airplanes will not stop, and there are thousands of young people who look forward to death like the Americans look forward to life," said Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, a spokesman for bin Laden's al-Qaida organization.

"The Americans have opened a door that will never be closed," Abu Ghaith said of the continuing air raids on Afghanistan. "America must know that the battle will not leave its land until America leaves our land; until it stops supporting Israel; until it stops the blockade against Iraq."

Tuesday night, American warplanes were back in the skies, pounding areas around the Taliban headquarters of Kandahar for the second time in 12 hours and the northwestern city of Herat. Planes screeched over the capital, sparking thunderous anti-aircraft fire and sending residents huddling back into whatever shelter they could find. Gunners opened fire again after midnight with a series of rapid salvos at high-flying jets.

"We just sit in the dark, watching the sky, waiting to die," said vegetable vendor Jamal Uddin, shutting down his shop as the lights went out Tuesday night. Power was cut in the city, and Taliban radio has been off the air since the second round of strikes wrecked transmitters.

There were no immediate strike in or near Kabul on Tuesday. The planes may have been headed toward Rishkore, nine miles to the west, a known training camp of bin Laden's al-Qaida terror network.

Officials from the Taliban, the Islamic militia that rules Afghanistan, claimed Tuesday that dozens of people have died in the U.S.-led raids. But the four workers, whose bodies were recovered Tuesday, were the first civilian deaths to be independently confirmed.

The men were employed by Afghan Technical Consultants, an agency contracted by the United Nations to conduct mine clearing - a never-ending task in one of the world's most heavily mined countries.

Their offices were not far from a transmission tower knocked out in Monday's strikes and near anti-aircraft batteries and an ammunition storage sites that may also have been U.S. targets.

Stephanie Bunker, a U.N. spokeswoman, confirmed the deaths. She said the men hadn't been told to leave the building. But, she said, "we specifically instructed staff that if they feel endangered, they should abandon their duty situations."

The United Nations evacuated international staff from Afghanistan at the outset of the crisis, but Afghan nationals working for U.N. organizations or groups under U.N. contract remained behind. The mine-clearing agency said last week it had suspended operations.

Bunker appealed for protection of civilians. "People need to distinguish between combatants and those innocent civilians who do not bear arms."

At the Pentagon, Rumsfeld expressed regret over the deaths, but said it was not verified that the U.S. fire was to blame. "We have no information that would let us know whether it was a result of ordnance fired from the air or the ordnance that we've seen fired from the ground on television," he said.

Rumsfeld said three days of airstrikes against facilities of the al-Qaida terror network and the Taliban's military had done enough damage to allow U.S. planes to fly day and night - a sign of U.S. confidence the flights were safe from air defenses.

Planes flew nearly constant sorties over Kandahar during the day Tuesday, Taliban sources said. A volley of strikes hit near the city in the morning. Raids resumed Tuesday night, pounding the home of the Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar. He reportedly left his house outside Kandahar minutes before missiles struck it Sunday.

"We can hear the explosions," said a Taliban soldier at the Kandahar garrison contacted by telephone Tuesday night. "There is darkness all around us. Our anti-aircraft guns are trying to target them but they are flying at a very high altitude." He refused to give his name.

Mullah Omar was in radio contact with senior Taliban commanders to assure them he was alive and in command, Taliban sources said. Afghan sources, contacted from Pakistan, said communications and air defenses at the Kandahar airport had taken a beating in the airstrikes.

In Herat, about 100 miles from the Iranian border, heavy strikes blasted military sites around the city as well as a position at the airport that previous strikes had failed to hit, a Taliban official in the city said.

Before Tuesday's sorties began, the Taliban said bin Laden was alive and still in the country. The United States launched the strikes after weeks of pushing the Taliban to hand over bin Laden, the top suspect in the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

"He is alive, his health is very good and he is in Afghanistan," the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, told CNN.

"In this freestyle game, Washington is aiming firstly to hunt the sitting Islamic government in Afghanistan and then every committed Muslim in the name of terrorism," Zaeef said. But he insisted the Taliban were still "strong" and said there were no casualties among the ranks of the movement's fighters.

In Afghanistan's north, the rebel military alliance continued to confront Taliban troops. The fighting came close to the border with neighboring Tajikistan at several points, said Russian border guards.

A northern alliance spokesman, Abdullah, told CNN that the rebels were stepping up the pressure. "The Taliban are in a really hard situation at this moment in northern Afghanistan," said Abdullah, who uses one name.

Also Tuesday, the U.N. World Food Program said it would resume aid shipments to Afghanistan, a day after it suspended them because of the military strikes. The first shipment - a five-truck convoy carrying 100 tons of food - left Mashhad, Iran, for Herat on Tuesday evening.

Meanwhile, the Taliban arrested a French journalist who slipped into the country disguised in eastern Afghanistan along with two Pakistani companions, the Afghan Islamic Press reported. The Frenchman, who was arrested with two Pakistanis, was to be charged with espionage, the news agency said.

An editor for the French weekly news magazine Paris Match said a staff member, Michel Peyrard, telephoned him late Monday from Pakistan and said he planned to enter Afghanistan.

On Monday, the Taliban released a British journalist, Yvonne Ridley, who had been arrested while sneaking into the country last month. Still in custody are eight international relief workers, including two Americans, who were arrested in August for allegedly preaching Christianity.

Kathy Gannon contributed to this dispatch from Islamabad, Pakistan.

-- David A Jones (, October 09, 2001


My, my. My heart bleeds for the Taliban. They lost four civilians, compared to the 6,000 we lost. Some comparison.

-- Wellesley (, October 10, 2001.

There have been reports of the Taliban beating U N workers. Who is to say that these four unfortunate souls weren't victims of too severe a beating and then placed in the rubble for effect? Makes you wonder.

-- S. Nelson (, October 11, 2001.

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