CIVILIANS fleeing Afghanistan yesterday reported mass burials of bombing victims in and around the eastern city of Jalalabad, supporting claims by the Taliban of major casualties and extensive damage to property.
The refugees' accounts are the first provided by sources independent of the Taliban. The Taliban are so confident that their embassy in Pakistan yesterday issued its first media visas since the September 11 attacks.
The allies have repeatedly stressed that the bombings are aimed not at the Afghan people, but at Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, who are harbouring him.
The Islamic regime said last night that at least 200 people died in the village of Karam. Earlier in the day, a spokesman for the ruling militia told the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press: "So far 160 bodies have been recovered, mostly women and children. This is not an exaggeration. More bodies are still being recovered."
An Afghan journalist who arrived in the Pakistani border city of Peshawar on Thursday said about 40 of the 60 mud and brick houses in Karam had been flattened by missiles and bombs.
Danish Karwakhel, a reporter for Wahadat, a Pakistani Pashto-language newspaper, who lives in Kabul, said: "People were digging through rubble with shovels or with their hands looking for bodies and looking for their belongings.
"I was on my way from Kabul to the border and walked to the village. I arrived at about 2pm and there were mass funerals going on. I saw many bodies in coffins. Eight people were being buried here, five there, it was a very emotional scene.
"So many people were crying. There were hundreds of people who had come from surrounding villages to help carry the bodies, dig graves and attend the funerals. Local people said 100 people had died and many were missing."
The village, surrounded by rice and wheat fields and orange trees, lies in a valley close to what locals said was an abandoned camp of bin Laden's al-Qa'eda network.
An official with the Taliban's Bakhtar news agency in Jalalabad said body parts, household belongings and at least one unexploded bomb littered the countryside around the village. There were also "horrific" injuries.
Sher Sha Hamdard said after visiting the village: "I hate to say this, but I'm glad I saw these things because the world has to know what the Americans have done here."