The United Nations said that US bombs had struck a mosque in a military compound and a nearby village during raids on the western city of Herat this week, adding to a growing catalogue of bombing blunders.
The revelation came as refugees arriving in southwestern Pakistan reported that 18 days of air strikes had reduced the Taliban's main base in Kandahar to a bombed-out ghost town and provided further evidence that scores of civilians have been killed.
However the growing criticism of the attacks did not signal any change to the US policy of air strikes, with a US warplane flying over the capital, Kabul, just before midnight (1930 GMT) Wednesday and dropping a bomb on the outskirts of the city.
Crew onboard the USS Sacramento begin to hoist up a pallet of four 1,000-pound laser-guided bombs during a transfer of equipment and munitions from the Sacramento to the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, in background, October 24, 2001. The USS Sacramento, a Naval supply ship, re-supplies the Carl Vinson and other ships in the battle group almost on a weekly basis. (Jim Hollander/Reuters)
UN spokeswoman Stephanie Bunker said earlier at least 70 percent of people living in the major towns of Herat, Kandahar in the south and Jalalabad in the east had fled the bombing. Independent estimates put the number of people on the move from the three cities at around one million.
"We have heard today that about 70 percent of the population of Herat city has fled to surrounding areas due to the bombings," Bunker said.
"The latest information coming out of Kandahar is that 70 to 80 percent of the population has left that city... in Jalalabad about 70 percent has left."
Bunker said reliable reports from Herat indicated the bombed mosque was in the same military compound as a military hospital which was destroyed on Monday night.
The village, located 500 metres (yards) to 1,000 metres from the military compound, was hit with cluster bombs -- fist-sized anti-personnel and armour penetrating explosives designed to scatter across an area.
"They had people being taken to the main Herat hospital in vehicles and pushcarts ... indicating that people were injured or killed," she said, although there were no confirmed reports of casualties.
The UN revelation came a day after the US admitted that bombs had gone astray over the weekend in Herat and over Kabul, where witnesses said at least 10 people died Sunday in a residential neighbourhood.
Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said Washington could not be sure of the impact of the mishaps but insisted attacks were carefully targeted on Taliban military infrastructure or Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.
"We take extraordinary care on the targeting process," she said. "There is unintended damage. There is collateral damage. Thus far, it has been extremely limited from what we've seen."
Refugees arriving in Pakistan suggested otherwise. Several recounted how 20 people, including nine children, had been killed as they tried to flee an attack on the southern Afghan town of Tirin Kot on a tractor and trailer.
One survivor, Abdul Maroof, 28, said injured people were left screaming in vain for help after the tractor was bombed on a remote rural road, far from the nearest hospital.
Refugees from Herat, who travelled for six days to get to the eastern border with Pakistan, told of horrifying destruction along the main road to Kandahar.
"Kandahar was completely destroyed. Everything has turned into piles of stones. Thousands more people are on their way here," said refugee Abdul Nabi after his arrival at a makeshift refugee camp here.
He said he had seen two groups of 13 and 15 corpses, which he believed were the remains of civilians, near bombed out trucks on the road between Herat and Kandahar.
The Taliban said a village in the mountains west of Tirin Kot had been bombed in the early hours of the morning, killing 12 people less than 24 hours after more than 50 died in Chakoor Kariz, near Kandahar. Neither alleged attack has been independently verified.
The United States has dismissed Taliban claims that more than 1,000 civilians have died as ridiculously overblown.
Copyright © 2001 AFP