It was early evening and the villagers were just sitting down to dinner. It was a cold, clear night, but not as quiet as usual, because the village was swollen with refugees who had escaped from the bombing of Jalabad, 30 miles away. As the prayers finished and the food was served, the meal was suddenly interrupted by the sound of two jets flying overhead, followed quickly by the roar of bombs exploding.
Men ran from their houses to check on the damage, but the women and children stayed indoors. Only a few people were injured. The bombs must have fallen by mistake; there was no military target nearby. This place was safe. But the jets turned and made a second pass over the village, and then a third, each time dropping more ordnance onto the homes of Karam, a rural, mountain village in Afghanistan.
Surviving residents and several reporters say that the village was completely destroyed by US bombs. Over 100 people, perhaps as many as 200, were killed–mostly women, children, and old people. Many of the bodies still remain interred in the ruins.
The US government says that Karam was once a training camp for Al Qaeda. In fact, the site was used to train mujahideen during the 1980s and was run by Sadiq Bacha to train members of the Hezb-i-Islami faction with CIA support.
Some of those men later joined the Taliban, but the base was never used by Al Qaeda. It was closed and abandoned in 1992, before bin Laden moved to Afghanistan. In the 1990s, families moved in and built mud and rock houses on the site. During the winter, nomads also made Karam their temporary home. Obviously, the US military relied on old, outdated, and incorrect information.
This has happened before: take, for example, the October 9th bombing of the Afghan Technical Consultants offices, a UN agency responsible for removing landmines in Afghanistan. The US government claims that ATC was near a military radio tower, but UN officials say the tower was a defunct and abandoned medium and short wave radio station that hadn’t been in operation for over a decade. And the ATC had even given its address to higher-ups at the UN to pass on to the US military, so the ATC offices would not be hit.
Four men were killed in the explosion, including two security guards: Najeebullah, a father of five young children, and Safiullah, a father of four. The other two victims were Nasir Ahmad, a newly married medical nurse, and Abdul Saboor. Only two days before, Saboor had volunteered to make the perilous trip from Pakistan into Afghanistan on foot to deliver much-needed cash salaries to UN employees. Just two hours after he arrived at the ATC offices, his body was blown apart in the explosion, along with the money that was sent with him.
How often has the US military made this kind of mistake? It’s impossible to know, since the Taliban have expelled all western reporters and Pakistan has closed its border with Afghanistan, making it hard for reporters to get into the country. Pakistani border guards are beating Afghan refugees with sticks and firing guns at them to keep them from crossing into Pakistan, where their stories of the bombing may further enrage the Pakistani populace.
But the refugees who can afford to pay bribes or are well enough to make the hike over mountainous terrain are finally making it into Pakistan and telling their stories. Here is a small collection of the civilian deaths told to reporters so far. None of these accounts come from Taliban sources; all are from refugees and western or Pakistani reporters.
In Jalalabad, the Sultanpur Mosque was hit by a bomb during prayers, with 17 people caught inside. Neighbors rushed into the rubble to help pull out the injured, but as the rescue effort got under way, another bomb fell, killing at least 120 people.
In the village of Darunta near Jalalabad, a US bomb fell on another mosque. Two people were killed and dozens–perhaps as many as 150 people–were injured. Many of those injured are languishing without medical care in the Sehat-e-Ama hospital in Jalalabad, which lacks resources to treat the wounded.
More civilian deaths are being reported in the villages of Torghar and Farmada, north and west of Jalalabad. At least 28 civilians had died in Farmada, which has an abandoned Al Qaeda training camp nearby. In Argandab, north of Kandahar, 10 civilians have died from the bombing and several houses have been destroyed. The same has happened in Karaga, north of Kabul.
A five-year-old child was killed while sleeping in his family’s home outside Kandahar when two bombs fell on a munitions storage area half a mile away. The explosion threw shells and rockets in all directions and one of those shells smashed through the mud-brick wall of his bedroom, slicing open young Taj Muhammed’s abdomen and burning his six-year-old sister, Kambibi. Taj suffered for 12 hours at a nearby hospital before he died.
On Oct. 7, the first night of the bombing, US planes targeted the Hotel Continental in Kabul. Taliban commanders have stayed at the hotel, but civilians also stay there on a regular basis. In the first wave of bombing, at least one private residence in Kabul suffered a direct hit and others were damaged. On the same night, bombs were dropped on the houses of Taliban leaders in Kandahar. Two civilian relatives of Mullah Muhammad Omar were killed: his aged stepfather and his 10-year-old son.
On Oct. 8, the second night of the bombing, three missiles were aimed at the airport in Jalalabad, but only one hit the target. The other two went astray and exploded nearby, killing one civilian, and injuring a second so severely that he needed to be driven to a hospital in Peshawar, Pakistan, to have shrapnel removed from a deep wound in his neck and his spinal injuries treated. He’s not expected to survive. A third 16-year-old boy injured in the same attack was also taken to a hospital in Peshawar; he lost his leg and two fingers, and he says that many more people were injured and may have died in the same incident.
On Oct. 11, a bomb aimed at the Kabul airport went astray and hit Qala-e-Chaman, a village one mile away, destroying several houses and killing a 12-year-old child. Three other houses collapsed from the explosion, and at least four civilians were injured. On the same night, another missile hit a house near the Kabul customs building, killing 10 civilians.
As of Oct. 12, the UN had independently reported at least 20 civilian deaths in Mazar-i-Sharif and 10 civilian deaths in Kandahar.
On Oct. 13, Khushkam Bhat, a residential district between Jalalabad airport and a nearby military area, was accidentally bombed by US planes trying to down a Taliban helicopter. More than 100 houses were flattened.
At least 160 people were pulled from the rubble and taken to hospitals.
On Oct. 16, two bombs fell on two Red Cross warehouses in the center of Kabul. The warehouses, bombed in full daylight, were clearly marked with red crosses on their roofs. US spokesmen claim that the warehouses were hit because there were military vehicles parked nearby. But those were Red Cross transport trucks.
On Oct. 17, a bomb scored a “direct hit” on a boy’s school in Kabul, but fortunately didn’t explode. A US plane, however, dropped a bomb at Mudad Chowk, a residential area of Kandahar, which did explode, destroying two houses and several shops, and killing at least seven people. In Kabul, four bombs fell near the city center; casualties are as yet unknown.
On Oct. 18, a bomb killed four members of a family in the eastern suburb of Qalaye Zaman Khan when it demolished two homes. A half a mile away, another bomb exploded in a housing complex, killing a 16-year-old girl.
The UN reports that Kandahar has fallen into a state of “pre-Taliban lawlessness,” with gangs taking over homes and looting shops.
On Oct. 19, the UN announces that at least 80% of the residents of Kandahar have left the city to escape the bombing and are swamping the surrounding villages, where there are no resources to care for them. Some have moved on to the border and crossed into Pakistan. One refugee said that there are bodies littering the streets of Kandahar and people are dying in the hospitals for lack of drugs. “We know we will lead a miserable life in Pakistan, in tents,” he said. “We have come here just to save our children.”
The civilian death toll is in the hundreds, probably thousands, and sure to rise with two new developments. US Air Force pilots have been given the go ahead to fire “at will”–at anything they desire, without pre authorization from strategists peering at satellite and surveillance photos. In fact, there are now regions of the country that have been designated “kill boxes,” patrolled night and day by low-flying aircraft with the mission to shoot anything that moves within the area. There has been no mention of how Afghan civilians will know where such “kill boxes” are and how to avoid them.
In addition, US planes are now dropping cluster bombs. Cluster bombs are like landmines on steroids; they fall, release hundreds of small “bomblets,” which disperse and explode, slicing through people, cars, trucks, and even certain types of buildings. Notably, about 8-12% of the brightly-colored bomblets don’t explode on impact, leaving behind attractive but deadly toys for children to play with later. Thousands of Afghan children were killed or maimed by similar bombs and attractive booby traps dropped by the Soviets in the 1980’s.
As if that weren’t horrible enough, the UN says that many of the US’s air-dropped food packets have landed on minefields; this will lure starving refugees to gruesome deaths. After two decades of war, Afghanistan still has 10 million landmines buried in the ground.