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Tuesday, 23 October, 2001, 12:42 GMT 13:42 UK
Civilian toll growing, say Taleban
Alleged wreckage of US helicopter filmed near Kandahar (al-Jazeera video grab)
The Taleban paraded "helicopter wreckage"
Latest claims that a US bomb destroyed a mosque in the western Afghan city of Herat are part of a growing picture of civilian deaths painted by the Taleban.

A spokesman for the Taleban's information agency said on Tuesday that people inside the mosque were killed or injured, but did not give any numbers.

In recent days, the Taleban have claimed that an air raid killed dozens of doctors and civilians in a hospital in Herat, and that two US helicopters were shot down near Kandahar in southern Afghanistan.

Northern Alliance soldier watches strikes
US air raids are intended to weaken the Taleban's grip on power
They have also accused the US of using chemical and biological weapons.

The US says there is no evidence that a hospital was hit and it denies the other claims.

The Taleban spokesman said that more than 40 people were killed in raids near Kabul and in Herat on Monday night.

"In Qalaye Shatir in Herat, 18 bombs were dropped last night, killing 15 residents and wounding 25 more in houses and at a mosque," he said.

He added that 25 people died when bombs hit Darul Aman, south of Kabul, and that Taleban positions had also been hit.

The Taleban also say that four people died and 10 were injured on Monday when bombs fell on homes at Daman, 15 kilometres (10 miles) south of its stronghold of Kandahar in southern Afghanistan.

Wreckage in a village the Taleban say was bombed
The US admits some of its air strikes have missed their targets
There is no independent confirmation of the figures.

Claims and counterclaims of civilian deaths are becoming an everyday part of the propaganda war, as the US tightens its net on the Taleban and Osama Bin Laden, whom it believes masterminded the 11 September attacks on New York and Washington.

The deaths - real or otherwise - of Muslims in Afghanistan have become a part of the Taleban's armoury as it calls for a "holy war" against the US and its allies.

Taleban leaders said that more than 100 people were killed when the hospital in Herat was bombed on Monday by US and British jets.

The US has said it is investigating the claim, while Britain said none of its aircraft were involved in raids on Herat.

Claims by the Taleban that two US helicopters have been shot down have been denied by US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Taleban ambassador to Pakistan Abdul Salam Zaeef
The Taleban accuse the US of genocide
Video footage from al-Jazeera television showed people gathered around several large wheels that the Taleban said were a helicopter's landing gear.

Mr Rumsfeld said: "The Taleban have said they have shot down at least two helicopters, which is false. They have not."

Analysts say it is puzzling why not more of the helicopters has been shown, and it could be possible that the wreckage was left over from CIA missions of the 1980s when the US was supporting rebels fighting the Soviet Union.

The Taleban also said helicopter crewmen were killed but offered no evidence.

The Taleban's ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, has accused the Americans of "genocide", claiming that more than 1,000 civilians had now died in the two weeks of attacks.

'Inflated' claims

In return, the US has accused the Taleban of inflating the numbers of civilian deaths.

No independent figures are available, but witnesses have reported seeing several dozen people dead and wounded in Kabul.

The Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have confirmed only 10 deaths in major cities, although they said they had only visited limited areas.

The US has admitted some of its attacks have hit the wrong targets.

The Pentagon said it mistakenly bombed a warehouse used by the Red Cross during a raid on Kabul on 16 October.

Another bomb which went astray in Kabul killed four Afghan guards from a United Nations mine clearance agency.

Several villagers were also reported to have died when two bombs meant for Kabul airport hit the wrong target.

See also:

22 Oct 01 | South Asia
US denies bombing hospital
22 Oct 01 | South Asia
Taleban deny leader's son killed
23 Oct 01 | UK Politics
'Net closing' on Bin Laden
21 Oct 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Tackling the Taleban
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