The American hunt for Osama bin Laden appeared to have gone tragically wrong for the second time in two days yesterday, when US bombers were reported to have killed scores of civilians in eastern Afghanistan as well as friendly mujahedin fighters supporting their battle against al-Qa'ida.
A senior mujahedin commander said US strikes killed more than 100 civilians around Agam, 25 miles south of Jalalabad, on top of at least 70 killed in air raids on Saturday night.
At least eight of the latest victims were guards and government officials of the Eastern Shura, the council of anti-Taliban mujahedin leaders who now hold eastern Afghanistan.
Haji Zaman Gamsharik, defense chief for the Eastern Shura, inspected the mutilated bodies of seven of his men, one of them a teenager, who died when American bombs struck a district government office in Agam where they were sleeping.
Iqbaluddin, 10, recovers at Jalalabad's Sihnat Amma hospital in Afghanistan Saturday, Dec. 1, 2001. Locals say the boy received shrapnel wounds in a U.S. bombing raid on his village of Kama Ado in the Agam area of the Nangarhar province. The U.S. military denied the claim, saying the bombing "did not happen". (AP Photo/ Yola Monakhov)
"These are district officials and guards,'' he said in the mortuary of Jalalabad's Public Health Hospital. "And this is not just one, two or three people there are more than a hundred.''
The US military acknowledged last night that it was looking into the reports of civilian areas having been hit.
Mujahedin commanders were already reeling from the attacks on Friday night and early Saturday when three villages were bombed, killing at least 70, and perhaps as many as 300, civilians in territory controlled by allies of the anti-terrorism coalition.
The apparent errors came as US warplanes continued to pound the Taliban's southern stronghold of Kandahar and Washington said it was stepping up the hunt for Mr bin Laden in south-east Afghanistan.
The US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, said yesterday he did not "know exactly" where Mr bin Laden was, "but we think he is still in Afghanistan and there is reason to believe that he is in the southern and eastern part of the country".
The US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, said he would not rule out ordering gas to be pumped into the Tora Bora caves, 28 miles south of Jalalabad, where Mr bin Laden is believed to be hiding. As heavy fighting was reported around Kandahar, the Americans said the Taliban forces were "caught in a snake-like squeeze" as opposition forces advanced.
Tribal sources said about 3,000 fighters loyal to the city's former governor, Gul Agha, had fought their way to within a mile of the airport, where the "Arab" fighters were holding firm. Meanwhile, about 4,000 fighters under Hamid Karzai advanced to a position 22 miles north of Kandahar, according to Mr Karzai's brother, Ahmed, in Pakistan.
Gul Agha was reported to have been wounded by "Arab" supporters loyal to Mr bin Laden, but a spokesman for the warlord denied that any such incident had taken place.
In Koenigswinter, Germany, Afghan delegates to United Nations-sponsored talks yesterday debated a draft outline of a proposed administration to rule the country until a permanent system can be put in place to succeed the Taliban.
The UN hopes to finalize an agreement today, after a week of talks, although key decisions on who gets what job in the interim administration remain to be negotiated.
© 2001 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd