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Wednesday, 12 December, 2001, 10:10 GMT
Afghan 'kamikaze camels' warning
Camel
A honed killer?
US marines based at Camp Rhino in southern Afghanistan have been warned about the danger of attack from "kamikaze camels".

During their war with Soviet forces during the 1980s Afghanistan's mujahideen were known to strap explosives to camels and send them towards enemy positions.

Just days after the warning from US intelligence services, soldiers guarding Camp Rhino at night say they saw a camel running inside the camp compound.


The fact that it was in our compound really freaked us out

Erik Knox
They were so alarmed by the appearance of the camel that they opened fire, but when they went to investigate it afterwards the animal had mysteriously disappeared.

"It was a pretty crazy night," recalls Lance Corporal Jesse Mendoza. "I had my NVGs (night vision goggles) on and I saw a big old camel running in the compound," the 20-year-old from Fresno, California said.

And Mr Mendoza was not the only one to see the beast. Its sudden appearance caused several spooked marines to fire off their guns.

Walking bombs

Some might judge this overkill - surely the appearance of a camel in a desert is not unheard of?

But for the marines this was indeed an enemy at the gates with the potential to kill.

Marines at Camp Rhino
The marines fired at the invader

Just days before they had been briefed by intelligence officers on the use of "kamikaze camels".

Throughout their occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s the Soviets had to contend with the threat of camels wired to explode being sent towards their positions.

The Afghan mujahideen fighters would strap dynamite to a camel and send it towards a Russian base. Then, as the animal wandered near troops or equipment, they would set it off with a remote detonator, to deadly effect.

Gunfire

"A couple of days earlier they told us about the camels, and sure enough we had a camel," Mr Mendoza said.

Sergeant Erik Knox was equally alarmed.


They put a hell of a lot of rounds in it but they never found it

Erik Knox

"The fact that it was in our compound really freaked us out," he said. "We heard the shots, but the camel wasn't in our range of fire.

Besides Mr Knox said, "You've got to be extremely careful and cautious when you're in the compound," because you could hit fellow marine.

Disappeared without trace

But a number of the soldiers had fired at the camel and when they went to search for its remains afterwards the mystery deepened - for neither hide nor hair of the beast could be found.

"They put a hell of a lot of rounds in it but they never found it," Mr Knox said.

Some may theorise that the camel was never found because they either missed or small arms were not enough to bring it down.

But Mr Mendoza insists they hit the camel because they had marked it with eight or nine lasers as they fired.

Adding to the enigma, just two nights after the camel incident the camp's perimeter fence was attacked by Taleban or al-Qaeda fighters.

In response the marines fired dozens of mortars at the interlopers, but the next day there was no sign of bodies.

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