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US Planes Rain Death on the Innocent
Published on Saturday, December 1, 2001 in the Guardian of London
'Collateral Damage'
US Planes Rain Death on the Innocent
'Precision' Raids Kill Residents in Capital City
by Rory McCarthy in Kabul
 
The people of Bibi Mahru had come to believe in American surgical strikes and precision bombing. Before the US military campaign in Afghanistan started, many families fled the village, afraid that the Taliban radar and anti-aircraft position on the hill above them would be targeted.

On the first night of bombing US fighter jets swooped low over the hill post overlooking Kabul airport. The raid was short and accurate. "Three times they hit the hill on the first night and they destroyed the radar. The targeting was exact,"said Qiamuddin, 50, a former Afghan army officer and a village elder.

The villagers thought their war was over and returned home. Then around 10 days later they saw American jets in the broad, blue sky above their village once again.

"I heard the sound of aircraft so I went up to the roof. I saw four aircraft circling overhead," Qiamuddin said. "One of the jets dived and fired something. Then I saw with my own eyes it hit this house."

He pointed to a large pile of broken bricks by a battered telegraph pole in the center of the village, several hundred meters from the Taliban gun position. Ten civilians died.

"Before their targeting was exact but this area is very far away from the hill," he added. "I don't know what was wrong with them. There were no Taliban at all in this area."

Evidence of destruction on the ground and accounts from dozens of witnesses point to a devastating pattern of inaccuracy by US bombers, in sharp contrast to Pentagon assertions of precision bombing.

The deep craters and pieces of shrapnel indicate that America's weapon of choice in Kabul was the Mark 82 500lb bomb, which is designed to be guided to its target by the pilot, a nearby observation plane or a spotter on the ground.

But there was nothing accurate about the 500lb bomb which fell on Bibi Mahru.

It killed Gul Ahmad, 40, a Hazara carpet weaver, his second wife Sima, 35, their five daughters and his son by his first wife. Two children living next door were also killed.

"We buried them together in the graveyard. We divided it with separate gravestones but their bodies were all in pieces," said Arafa, Mr Ahmad's first wife, who was living in another village at the time of the bombing. Taliban officials arrived shortly after the bombing and paid for the funerals.

On the other side of the hill, in a richer area of town, lived Jalaluddin Haqqani, a senior Taliban figure and minister for frontiers. For the past five years he lived in a two-story house at the end of a quiet street in Wazir Akbar Khan.

Neighbors said Taliban, Arab, Pakistani and Sudanese fighters regularly visited the house and that it was linked by a communications wire to a heavy artillery position on the hill above.

On November 12, the last day the Taliban spent in Kabul, the area was targeted three times but Mr Haqqani's house was never hit. At 7pm that night a 500lb bomb hit a small group of buildings opposite his home, destroying a guard hut where ammunition was stored and a civilian house. Just 30 minutes later neighbors saw several people loading ammunition into a Toyota van in the street at the back entrance to Mr Haqqani's house. Seconds later a US helicopter circling overhead fired a rocket directly into the van blowing it into the sky.

Ghulam Ali's sister-in-law Ayesha, 30, was drawing water from a barrel in her front yard nearby when it struck. She was killed instantly by shrapnel.

Earlier that same morning American planes targeted a military garrison close to the densely populated Soviet-built Microrayon housing district. Four 50lb bombs hit the area. Only one hit the garrison.

One landed at the corner of apartment Block 33, where a crowd of children were playing. Nazila, six, was crushed to death by a concrete block. "She couldn't run away in time," said her father, Abdul Basir. "We believed because this was a residential block they wouldn't hit it. We thought they were hitting their targets accurately."

A second landed in the road, a third landed on two houses, killing five people, including a 15-year-old girl.

Back at Bibi Mahru the villagers are trying to clear away the rubble and rebuild the destroyed houses. "My husband was thinking before this incident that the Americans would bring peace in our country," said Arafa, who lost eight members of her family. "Now I am left with my five daughters and two sons and no one to look after them."

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2001

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