Thousands Flee Bomb Attacks by US Drones

Published on
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The Sunday Times (UK)

Thousands Flee Bomb Attacks by US Drones

by
Daud Khattakin and Christina Lamb

File photo shows a US "Predator" drone passing overhead at a forward operating base near Kandahar. (AFP/Joel Saget)

AMERICAN drone attacks on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan are causing a massive humanitarian emergency, Pakistani officials claimed after a new attack yesterday killed 13 people.

The dead and injured included foreign militants, but women and children were also killed when two missiles hit a house in the village of Data Khel, near the Afghan border, according to local officials.

As many as 1m people have fled their homes in the Tribal Areas to escape attacks by the unmanned spy planes as well as bombings by the Pakistani army. In Bajaur agency entire villages have been flattened by Pakistani troops under growing American pressure to act against Al-Qaeda militants, who have made the area their base.

Kacha Garhi is one of 11 tented camps across Pakistan's frontier province once used by Afghan refugees and now inhabited by hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis made homeless in their own land.

So far 546,000 have registered as internally displaced people (IDPs) according to figures provided by Rabia Ali, spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and Maqbool Shah Roghani, administrator for IDPs at the Commission for Afghan Refugees.

The commissioner's office says there are thousands more unregistered people who have taken refuge with relatives and friends or who are in rented accommodation.

Jamil Amjad, the commissioner in charge of the refugees, says the government is running short of resources to feed and shelter such large numbers. A fortnight ago two refugees were killed and six injured in clashes with police during protests over shortages of water, food and tents.

On the road outside Kacha Garhi camp, eight-year-old Zafarullah and his little brother are among a number of children begging for coins and scraps. "I want to go back to my village and school," he said.

With the attacks increasing, refugees have little hope of returning home and conditions in the camps will worsen as summer approaches and the temperatures soar.

Many have terrible stories. Baksha Zeb lost everything when his village, Anayat Kalay in Bajaur, was demolished by Pakistani forces. His eight-year-old son is a kidney patient needing dialysis and he has been left with no means to pay.

"Our houses have been flattened, our cattle killed and our farms and crops destroyed," he complained. "There is not a single structure in my village still standing. There is no way we can go back."

He sold his taxi to pay for food for his family and treatment for his son but the money has almost run out. "God bestowed me with a son after 15 years of marriage," he said. "Now I have no job and I don't know how we will survive."

Pakistani forces say they have killed 1,500 militants since launching antiTaliban operations in Bajaur in August. Locals who fled claim that only civilians were killed.

Zeb said he saw dozens of his friends and relatives killed. Villagers were forced to leave bodies unburied as they fled.

Pakistani officials say drone attacks have been stepped up since President Barack Obama took office in Washington, killing at least 81 people. A suicide attacker blew himself up inside a paramilitary base in Islamabad, killing six soldiers and wounding five yesterday.

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