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Thursday, 3 January, 2002, 15:12 GMT
Pressure grows to stop Afghan bombing
F-14 takes off from USS Enterprise
The US says further bombing is vital
By the BBC's Richard Miron in Kabul

Continuing reports of civilian casualties in Afghanistan are raising questions about US military tactics and adding to a growing clamour for an end to the bombing.

Evidence of civilian deaths in the village of Niazi Qalaye in Paktia province, struck in the early hours of 29 December, offers a direct challenge to the American military's version of the attack.

Two were ammunition dumps and three were clearly houses ... civilians died in those houses - to me that looked like poor intelligence

David Holly, weapons expert

A Pentagon spokesman has insisted that the site was not a village, but a hideout used by Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda fighters.

The United Nations says it has an unconfirmed but reliable report from the area that 52 civilians were killed in the raid.

Other unconfirmed estimates from local sources suggest a far higher figure, with between 107 and 120 people killed and at least 10 wounded.

"We were sleeping here that night when the bombing started - we all woke up and everybody was panicking - women, children, everybody left and went to the farms and we slept in the farms watching the planes above our heads, said Khayesta Khan, a local villager.

The evidence of the night's events still litter the valley floor - shards of metal, mortar shells and anti-tank ammunition surround two of the buildings destroyed in the attack - clearly arms dumps.

'They were civilians'

Proof of the human casualties was removed by Khayesta Khan and other villagers.

"Yes we saw a lot of bodies. We were working to recover the dead bodies there - me, my brother, my father - everybody was working there. They were civilians - no one else," he said.

The evidence of civilian life is not hard to find. A red plastic tub sits alongside a child's shoe and women's clothing.

There is also a torn schoolbook nearby - all this in one of the targets struck by the Americans in what they termed an attack on an Al-Qaeda and Taleban leadership compound.

David Holly, a weapons expert who works for the BBC, visited the site of the attack and examined the five buildings that were hit.

"Two were ammunition dumps and three were clearly houses. The bombs fell exactly where they wanted to ... straight onto the buildings. There were not stray bombs - there was no cratering between buildings, he said.

"Civilians had died in those houses - to me that looked like poor intelligence. Somebody should have checked which ones were the ammunition dumps and which ones were housing families," he added.

No accurate death toll

Many of the victims of Niazi Qalaye are said to be buried at a dusty cemetery about a mile from the attack. Fresh rounds of earth indicate the new graves - numbers vary as to how many were killed.

They should stop bombing, this is innocent killing ... This is a big cruelty to our people

Haji Saifullah Ahmadzia, tribal council chief

Abdullah, a security officer for a local warlord, says approximately 120 people are buried in mass graves.

Accounts vary as to the numbers killed, the duration of the attacks and other details. But people here are clear about their anger over the events.

Armed men, equipped with Kalashnikovs and grenades, gather in pick-up trucks outside a building in the town of Gardez near Niazi Qalaye. They are protecting members of the local tribal council meeting here.

afghan forces
Anti-US feeling is growing among some Afghan warlords

According to the council chief, Haji Saifullah Ahmadzia, the continued bombing and the casualties threaten Afghanistan's fragile peace process and relations with its new American allies.

"Our message to the government in Kabul, to the international community, to everybody around the world - is they should stop bombing, they shouldn't kill us because this is innocent killing.

"This is a big cruelty to our people and this will cause deep hatred among the people towards the government and towards everybody in the international community who is involved in that".

'Bombing will go on'

Washington has said, however, for the time being it remains vital that the bombing goes on.

"There continues to be pockets of resistance in Afghanistan. There continues to be al-Qaeda there and what we want to ensure is that those people cannot terrorise the world," Colonel Rick Thomas told the BBC.

"We have no easy way to track civilian casualties but what we try to do is minimise the risk of injuring civilians or damage to civilian infrastructure," he added.

"But Al-Qaeda and the Taleban continue to use their own people and their own civilian facilities as shields hoping that we wouldn't target them."

See also:

01 Jan 02 | South Asia
US defends Afghan raid
01 Jan 02 | Americas
Bush appoints Afghan envoy
29 Dec 01 | South Asia
Marines patrol streets of Kabul
19 Dec 01 | South Asia
UN bogged down over Afghan peacekeepers
27 Dec 01 | South Asia
Q&A: Afghan peacekeeping force
02 Jan 02 | South Asia
Analysis: Al-Qaeda to struggle on
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