KABUL, Afghanistan -- In the sprawling, mud-brick slum of Qala-ye-Khatir, most
men were kneeling in the mosques at morning prayer on Nov. 6 when a quarter-ton
of steel and high explosives hurtled from the sky into the home of Gul Ahmed,
a carpet weaver.
The American bomb detonated, killing Ahmed, his five daughters, one of his
wives and a son. Next door, it demolished the home of Sahib Dad and killed two
of his children.
Sahib Dad and his neighbors gathered yesterday at their ground zero, a gaping
hole in the one-story skyline of this neighborhood of Kabul's poor. They surveyed
the fragments of walls standing over jumbled heaps of khaki- colored bricks. And
Sahib Dad quietly recalled the scenes he cannot forget: the boiling, choking cloud
of dust, the screams of the wounded, the neighbors' frantic, bare-handed scramble
to pull survivors and bodies from the rubble.
Sahib Dad, a man in his 30s who has been unable to find work, has had less
time to recover from his disaster than New Yorkers have from theirs. His voice
is weary, his face pinched with pain. His boy, Ali, had been 1 year old, and his
girl, Fereshta, was 9. His wife and two surviving children have moved from a hospital
to a relative's home.
They cry every day, Sahib Dad said. "We must go on with our lives," he said,
"but this destruction is something we cannot understand."
While the Pentagon has acknowledged a few individual bombing errors that killed
a handful of civilians, U.N. ordnance specialists say they find evidence of a
broad pattern of erroneous bombing that killed 30 civilians over the 37 days of
air raids on this city.
"The Pentagon likes to show the impressive videos" -- the ones that display
U.S. jets launching bombs that find and destroy a target without killing the neighbors,
said Ross Chamberlain, coordinator for the U.N. mine-clearing operations in much
of Afghanistan. But the lesson of the U.S. bombing of Kabul, he said, is this:
While any given bomb may find its mark accurately, only a percentage of them will
"There's really no such thing as precision bombing," he said.
Chamberlain and his colleagues have been inspecting the sites, such as Sahib
Dad's house, where U.S. bombs landed in Kabul. Having examined 12 of 15 sites
reported to his office so far, Chamberlain said, "We are finding more cases of
errant targeting than accurate targeting, more misses than hits."
Last month, U.S. planes twice hit U.N.-backed mine-clearing operations, killing
four security guards, and twice bombed a Red Cross warehouse for relief supplies.
The U.S. Central Command said yesterday that it was checking into the reports
of errant bombs in Kabul. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said casualties
of innocent civilians have always been a part of war, blaming them on the terrorists
who attacked the United States.
"The Americans clearly were trying to be very precise," said Peter Le Sueur,
a technical adviser to U.N. mine-clearing operations in Afghanistan. "But they
were bombing in a city, and there wasn't much margin for error."
Chamberlain and Le Sueur, who are British, showed journalists a place where
U.S. high-tech weapons had performed as promised. On a street in the well-to-
do neighborhood of Wazir Akbar Khan, one villa was crushed and the flanking houses
badly damaged. The middle house, neighbors said, had been that of Abdul Niyazi,
the Taliban commander of Kabul's security forces. The neighboring villas had sheltered
ethnic Arab fighters of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda organization, Chamberlain said.
Bomb fragments and other evidence suggested the Americans had dropped a 500-
pound, laser-guided weapon -- a GBU-12 -- onto the roof, perhaps with a delayed
fuse to allow it to crash through to the ground before exploding, a way of confining
damage to a smaller area, Le Sueur said. A block from the bombed villa, a large
hospital stood undamaged by the explosion.
"This is an example of the technology working as it's supposed to," said Chamberlain.
Nearby, though, another bomb crashed through the roof of a house and plowed
through floors before burying itself, tail-first and unexploded, in the ground
under the kitchen. U.N. officials cordoned off the house and were weighing how
a disposal team might defuse or move the bomb.
©2001 San Francisco Chronicle