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Archive for Sunday, October 28, 2001

Growing civilian casualties as U.S. steps up Afghanistan air campaign

October 28, 2001

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— U.S. attacks on Kabul killed at least 13 civilians Sunday, witnesses said, one day after U.S. missiles rocketed hamlets along the front line north of here, killing and maiming villagers.

American warplanes also pounded targets in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar in the south, Herat in the west and Jalalabad in the east, said the Afghan Islamic Press, a private news agency.

Late Sunday, U.S. jets were back over the skies of the beleaguered Afghan capital, and strong explosions could be heard in the direction of the main road from Kabul to the opposition-controlled Bagram air base.

In neighboring Pakistan, officials said the government had turned over to U.S. officials a suspect wanted in connection with the bombing of the USS Cole last year, a Yemeni microbiology student. It was the first known arrest outside Yemen in connection with the attack, which Osama bin Laden is suspected of organizing.

President Bush launched the air strikes Oct. 7 after the ruling Taliban refused to hand over bin Laden, also suspected in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States that killed about 4,000 people.

Elsewhere in Pakistan, police said at least 16 people were killed and at least five hurt in the southern town of Behawalpur when unidentified gunmen sprayed a Christian church with gunfire. No one claimed responsibility, but some Christians in the area suspected a fundamentalist Muslim group staged the attack in response to the U.S. raids on Afghanistan.

In the Qali Hotair neighborhood of northern Kabul, an AP reporter saw six bodies--four children and two adults. Neighbors said 10 people in all were killed in the neighborhood.

A wailing father hugged the dead body of his son, who looked barely 2. Nearby lay the bodies of three other children, their sweaters covered in dust. The bodies of two men could be seen as well.

A neighbor, Zarmeen Bibi, said the strike had occurred about 7 a.m. Several U.S. jets roared over the capital of Kabul Sunday morning, apparently aiming at military targets on the northern and eastern edge of the city.

Another neighbor, 13-year-old Shafiq Ullah, said several people were injured and taken to hospitals. "It was bombs. They dropped there," he said, pointing.

The attack on Kabul occurred a day after an apparent errant bombardment hit two villages behind the rebel military alliance's battle lines north of the capital. A third village behind Taliban lines was also hit.

A total of eight or nine civilians were killed in all three villages--most of them in alliance-held communities, according to witnesses. About 10 others were injured.

"Myself and staff are deeply shocked, especially when you see a 4-year-old child and old people coming in," said Kate Rowlands, program director of an Italian-run emergency clinic in opposition territory.

She said injured civilians on the Taliban side crossed the front line by donkey to seek treatment, and expressed dismay over the large number of civilian casualties.

"We are totally against any form of war or violent attacks that involve the death and mutilation of innocent civilians," she said.

In Washington, Pentagon spokesmen had no immediate comment on the latest strikes and civilian casualties involved. It has stressed repeatedly that civilians are never deliberately targeted.

The U.S. warplanes striking north of Kabul on Sunday appeared to be targeting military installations backing up Taliban front lines. Taliban anti-aircraft fire rang out as the planes flew overhead, but the salvos were ineffective against the high-flying jets.

Overnight, the roar of jets--and answering anti-aircraft fire--could be heard occasionally, but there was no bombardment in the city center itself.

On the front lines of the opposition northern alliance, near the rebel-held Bagram air base, spokesman Bismillah Khan said the latest wave of bombardment could be targeting rear-line military installations.

Sunday's daylight raids followed what witnesses called the heaviest such strikes on Taliban front lines in the north of Afghanistan. However, U.S. missiles struck three villages--Ghanikheil and Raqi on the opposition side and Nikhahil behind Taliban lines.

Villagers in Ghanikheil said two mud houses were hit. In one of them, the family was preparing for a wedding, they said. In the worst-hit house, villagers said a 20-year-old woman was killed and six others hurt. Four others were hurt in the second house, they said.

"The sound was huge. The plane swooped down--I could hear it dive," said another eyewitness, Amin Ullah, 70. "I heard the huge explosion."

Rebels confronting Taliban troops north of the capital had been complaining publicly that the American airstrikes weren't doing enough to advance their cause. It wasn't known if Saturday's heavy raids were in response to that, but an opposition spokesman said he was pleased with the day's raids.

Elsewhere, the Taliban claimed Saturday to have beaten back a new opposition push outside the strategic northern town of Mazar-e-Sharif.

The reported setback for the anti-Taliban forces near Mazar-e-Sharif came on the heels of another one--Friday's summary execution by Taliban forces of opposition leader Abdul Haq.

He had crossed into Afghanistan to try to persuade Afghan tribal leaders to abandon the Taliban and throw their support to exiled former Afghan king Mohammad Zaher Shah.

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