Published on Monday, November 19, 2001 in the Independent/UK
Carpet Bombing 'Kills 150 Civilians' in Frontline Town
by Justin Huggler in Cheshma-ye Bangi
A catastrophic error by carpet-bombing US Air Force warplanes was blamed yesterday for the deaths of about 150 unarmed Afghan civilians in a densely populated frontline town caught up in the battle for the Taliban redoubt of Kunduz.
Terrified refugees fleeing the town of Khanabad yesterday told The Independent that American planes had bombed the area a few miles from Kunduz daily since Thursday, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the buildings they were bombing were civilian homes. All day yesterday, huge plumes of smoke rose from the hills on the front lines near the Taliban's last northern stronghold as B-52 bombers continued to drop their loads of bombs.
"I saw 20 dead children on the streets," said Zumeray, one of the refugees. "Forty people were killed yesterday alone. I saw it with my own eyes. Some of them were burned by the bombs, others were crushed by the walls and roofs of their houses when they collapsed from the blast."
The relentless US pounding appears to have persuaded the Taliban forces to surrender, provided the Northern Alliance fighters pledge not to kill the mostly Arab and Pakistani fighters among them. The Taliban offer was conditional on UN representatives monitoring the surrender, they said.
The still-unverified reports of the killing of civilians by US bombers may further complicate attempts to flush out Taliban and al-Qa'ida fighters. The Taliban have also remained in control in their southern stronghold, Kandahar, while US jets continued to pound them from the skies. The bombing raids over the past two days were described as among the heaviest in 43 days of war.
Khanabad lies 10 miles from Kunduz, one of only two major population centres in Afghanistan still under Taliban control. The refugees said they had endured three days of bombing before the Taliban ordered them out of their homes and told them they were free to cross the front line.
About 40,000 people live in Khanabad. The refugees said all but a few, who stayed behind to guard the houses, fled yesterday. "There was no one in Khanabad to see what happened," said Farhod, 20, who was travelling with his parents and his younger brothers and sisters. "There are a lot of dead people there."
Zumeray had walked across the front line with his mother, his sister and her children, after abandoning three months' worth of food in Khanabad. The children had no shoes; they had been walking for seven hours and their feet were raw.
He spoke of seeing pieces of burned black bodies strewn around where the bombs had landed. "When the bombs hit, there was fire everywhere," he said. The first bombs came on Thursday, he said, and the first house hit belonged to a man called Agha Padar.
"It was God who brought this on Khanabad," said Farhod. "The people there have had to suffer so much. We had so many problems when the Taliban came, and now this.
"This is the work of the Taliban," said Zumeray, insisting that he was not angry with the Americans. "The Taliban were so cruel, and God brought the Americans to help us."
The refugees' faces were full of fear. They walked all day, a steady stream of families fleeing their homes. Some had newborn babies in their arms. They all told the same story. As they spoke, B-52s circled lazily overhead and the huge explosions of the bombs echoed in the mountains. The children grew nervous at the sound.
While most support the attacks on the Taliban, one man shouted angrily that the Americans were wrong to kill civilians.
© 2001 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd