Afghanistan - The bomb came from the sky without warning in the middle of
the night, engulfing Mirza Mohammed's house with flame, turning the
sleeping occupants' dreams into nightmares.
the bomb hit this place, the entire house collapsed and there was only
dust and confusion," said Mohammed, 38, the eldest of five brothers
whose families lived in separate rooms of the mud-brick dwelling their
father built 20 years ago.
intended target of the bomb, dropped in the first week of the U.S. air
campaign in Afghanistan, was Kabul International Airport, a few hundred
yards away. Where Mohammed's house stood, there now is an eight-foot-deep
crater. He says it is a miracle only two died and 25 were injured.
more of a miracle is Mohammed's attitude.
doesn't matter that two people in my family died," he said. "I
will give this house as a gift to the United States if we have a lasting
peace. We want to thank W. Bush for helping get rid of the bearded Taliban.
he added, "if peace doesn't come, I'll be upset with him and the
the Taliban on the run this week, victims of stray bomb strikes in Kabul
express remarkably little bitterness. Their benevolence has a condition,
however: The price for all the lost lives and lost limbs is a durable
peace. Almost all expressed hope that the United Nations would send an
international security force until Afghanistan could create a broad-based
the U.S. bombing campaign caused substantial numbers of unintended
casualties, it appears to have killed fewer civilians in Kabul than either
the Taliban or initial news reports suggested.
a spot check of 12 stray-bomb sites in Kabul in recent days, witnesses
said 29 people died. A dozen others were said to have died when a bomb
fell Oct. 19 at Sarai Shamali, an informal market in northern Kabul.
far from a comprehensive assessment of stray bombs, the reports of
casualties by eyewitnesses at most sites were lower than commonly believed
here or reported by humanitarian agencies.
reporter who witnessed the aftermath of an Oct. 21 bomb strike in the
northern Kabul district of Khair Khana saw seven bodies removed. At the
time, a hospital doctor said 13 died. Care International, which made an
incomplete assessment while the Taliban was still in power, said 18 were
said the actual death toll was nine.
has been 30 days since this happened and I don't feel like a human,"
said Gul Makai, 35, a widow who lost her son, Sardar Mohammed, 20, as he
prepared to go to market with a wheelbarrow of fruit. "He was the
breadwinner for this family and now we have nothing."
also said that 12 people died when a wedding party was struck by a bomb
last month near the Macroryan housing complex. Witnesses said the actual
count was five.
Taliban claimed two weeks ago that 1,500 Afghan civilians had been killed.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, while expressing regret for civilian
deaths, called the Taliban claims "fiction." The British Defense
Ministry said no more than 300 died nationwide.
when the bombing campaign is over, it may be impossible to get an exact
figure of what military officials used to call "collateral
international agencies kept an independent count because the Taliban would
have interpreted such work as gathering military intelligence, said Pascal
DuPort, deputy head of the International Committee for the Red Cross in
weren't taking bodies to hospitals or government, but burying them very
quickly," he said. "It's very difficult for anyone to know how
many died and how many were wounded."
U.S. bombing campaign was far from perfect. Twice, the Red Cross warehouse
was struck - which the Red Cross still cannot comprehend because the site
is nowhere near military targets and, the agency contends, there were no
armed men hiding under its symbol. The U.S. government apologized for the
bombs, which injured one guard.
an unknown number of unexploded bombs still lie around Kabul. In the
neighborhood of Ben-e-Hassar, where U.S. bombers hammered Taliban
positions, pieces of bomb caromed nearly a mile. A two-foot chunk of one
came to rest against the wall of a house, its inch-thick steel casing
still holding gray puttylike explosives, which children scooped out and
used for starting fires.
dangerous," said Najibullah, 40, a teacher. "Can you get it
about the stray bombs is suppressed now that the Northern Alliance
controls Kabul, but Abdul Mobeen, 36, a shop owner whose leg was injured
by shrapnel in the Oct. 19 bomb in Sarai Shamali, said people were hostile
toward America at the time.
your pilots they should hit their targets," Mobeen said Monday as he
lay in Wazir Akbar Khan hospital, still recovering from his month-old
here said the bombs were more accurate in the first week of the air
campaign, which began Oct. 7, when the targets - large military bases, the
airport, radar and communications installations - were obvious. But as the
Taliban sought safety in residential neighborhoods, bombs began to go
astray, they said.
of us thought they were mistakes," said Shakir Pardis, 38, a teacher
whose middle-class house in the Sharie Nad district was wrecked by a
strike Oct. 17 at his front door. "Others thought maybe the pilot
lost somebody in the World Trade Center or the Pentagon and deliberately
bombed civilian targets to take revenge, and then just said it was a
Kabul residents were surprised at the depth of U.S. intelligence. Aircraft
fired laser-guided rockets at specific houses in crowded neighborhoods
that residents were only vaguely aware contained Arab and Pakistani
militants sympathetic to Osama bin Laden, the alleged mastermind of the
Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
were amazed at the accuracy," said Mohammed Alem, a carpenter from
the Qasabale-Kargere housing complex near the airport, where the tarmac
and surrounding grounds are littered with aircraft fuselages scattered
like broken pencils. Two stray bombs fell in a field near the housing
complex, but they caused no casualties, contrary to reports in the city.
was little expectation of personal compensation - this is a city where
50,000 people died during factional fighting between 1992 and 1996.
whose grandfather built the house that was destroyed, said his pregnant
wife survived despite being completely buried in the rubble. But she has
become mentally unstable since the Oct. 17 blast.
I could afford to rebuild this house, I'd say it was worth it to get rid
of the Taliban," Pardis said. "Now I just have no house."
there was an expectation of collective compensation - that the
international community would not ignore Afghanistan as it did a decade
ago after Afghan Islamic warriors defeated the Soviet Union and then
destroyed what was left of the country as they struggled for supremacy
the Khair Khana neighborhood, populated primarily by ethnic Tajiks who
might be sympathetic to the Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance that swept
into Kabul last week, hardly anyone expressed confidence that the alliance
could govern the country alone.
things are left in the hands of these leaders, then we won't get
peace," said Tawoos, 30, a carpenter who lives near the site where
the nine people were killed. Like many Afghans, he uses one name.
and some of his neighbors went to the Taliban government last month after
the Khair Khana bomb knocked out electricity to six houses. They were
turned down by bureaucrats who seemed to know the end of their tenure was
"The Taliban said: 'Wait for the Americans. They're coming soon, and they'll fix it.' "