Witnesses confirm that dozens were killed in bombing
By Richard Lloyd Parry in Peshawar, The Independent UK, 13 October 2001
Until two days ago, when the bombs fell from the sky, the village of Karam was a place of no significance, a settlement of 60 houses 10 miles away from the Afghan city of Jalalabad.

Danish Karwakhel, an Afghan correspondent for a Pakistan newspaper, was travelling towards the Pakistani border when he passed through it. The farmers keep cattle; a few nomad familes settle there from time to time. Usually you would pass through without another glance. But early on Thursday, a few hours before he arrived, Karam was one of the worst places in the world to end up.

According to Mr Karwakhel, who was interviewed in the Pakistan city of Peshawar last night, scores of innocent civilians were killed by American or British bombs in Karam, in the Surkhurude district, on Thursday morning. Other witnesses, interviewed by The Independent and by Pakistani journalists in Peshawar yesterday spoke of other tragedies by coalition bombs that missed their targets.

They describe the village of Darunta, where at least two civilians were killed and many more were injured. They tell of a mosque, where dozens, perhaps as many as 150, worshippers were killed by bombs on Thursday. Spokesmen for the ruling Taliban militia made similar claims on Thursday and they were denied by British and American officials, including the British International Development Secretary, Clare Short.

Accounts are still few but they are consistent to prove what the coalition Allies are desperate to deny: that the attacks did take place, and that many civilians were killed. They suggest that, despite early reports of its accuracy the coalition bombing campaign is taking a tragically high toll in innocent lives.

Mr Karwakhel entered Karam in the early afternoon of Thursday, he told the Dawn newspaper in Peshawar. In a few hours there he witnessed two funerals one of a group of 10 people, the second a group of five. The whole village, he said, was occupiued in burying the dead. He was told that, including surrounding villages, 150 civilians were killed in the area. "Out of the total civilian casualties," he said, "about 100 were killed in Karam village alone."

Some 45 of the 60 houses, simple structures of dried mud, were destroyed; apart from the human casualties, there were many injured cattle and the stunned villagers were still occupied in pulling them out from under the collapsed houses.

The people were more full of grief than anger, he said, and the reasons for the attack or tragic miss were not difficult to identify. Until a few years ago, according to the lcoal people, jihad camps run by Osama bin Laden's terrorist network operated on the hills of the valley in which Karam lies.

The second confirmed tragedy was in the town of Jalalabad where 19-year-old Mohammed Rahim was passing through on his way to Pakistan. He passed the Sultanpur Mosque and saw similar scenes: coffins containing bodies laid out for burial. Local people told him that a bomb had hit the mosque during prayers, and that some 17 people had been caught inside. Neighbours rushed in to pull them out of the rubble and the rescue operation was under way when another bomb fell. "The second one killed 120 people," he told The Independent.

Mr Rahim had started his journey in the village of Darunta, also close to Jalalabad on the main road from Kabul, where similar destruction was reported by a number of refiugees. A 43-year-old man named Jan Mohammed said two civilians died there and that many casualties were languishing in Jalalbad's Sehat-e-Ama hospital, which lacked the resources to treat them.

Other second-hand reports from Afhghan refugees arriving in Peshawar speak of civilian deaths in the villages of Torghar and Farmada, respectively north and west of Jalalabad. "I met one family who said they saw 28 dead bodies in Farmada," said Mohammed Tahir.

"They said that the bombs had fallen from a plane and that they had seen it with their own eyes. In Farmada, the Arabs [Osama bin-Laden's followers] used to have a training camp, but they left after the Taliban came to power. That was five years ago, and now they have gone elsewhere."

Such anecdotal accounts suggest that out of date intelligence may be to blame for the tragedies it seems unlikely that a stray bomb aimed at a military installation would hit a remote village. But diplomatic sources suggested on Friday that there was another possible explanation.

According to these sources, Afghan employees of foreign agencies recently returned from Kabul have reported seeing Taliban military facilities deliberately moving into civilian residential areas either to discourage bombardment or to increase innocent victims and thus moral revulsion at the attacks.

The Taliban reported other civilian deaths but these could not be confirmed among refugees in Peshawar. According to the official Kabul news agency, at least 10 people were killed and several homes were destroyed in Argandab, north of the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar. Bombs also destroyed homes in Karaga, north of Kabul, according to the agency.

Clare Short had earlier poured scorn on the Taliban claim of hundreds of casualties. "Clearly there is propaganda being fed out ... claims of casualties that are not true. It's widely understood among Afghanistan refugees that there have not been so many civilian casualties."

But this may be a result of the remote and rugged terrain in which the civilians have been killed.

An official with an international agency said on Friday: "It's very difficult for people with families and possessions to carry to get out of these mountain villages and over the border. It may well be several days before more witnesses to these kinds of allegations get out of Afghanistan and speak to us here."

Confirmation of civilian deaths will increase the difficulties of the Pakistan government, which is struggling to appease a vociferous pro-Taliban minority. A foreign ministry spokesman, Riaz Mohammed Khan, said yesterday: "We condemn terrorism, but we feel sorrow and pain over the killing of innocent Afghans."

Last night, the Taliban were transporting a team of Western television and agency reporters to the village, in an effort to prove to the world the nature of their claims.

Osama bin Laden yesterday put a price of $50,000 (£34,600) on the head of every US soldier caught in Afghanistan, Pakistani news reports said.

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