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Monday, 25 March, 2002, 17:21 GMT
US rebuilds bombed Afghan school
Captain Herb Jollat walks in the ruins of the Sultan Razia school in Mazar-e-Sharif
The school is little more than a shell at the moment
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By Catherine Davis
BBC correspondent in Mazar-e-Sharif

American forces in the northern Afghan town of Mazar-e-Sharif have started work to rebuild the Sultan Razia girls' school, which they bombed last November.

Hiftekhar Hussein holds his six-year-old daughter Mariam, who will go to the school after the rebuilding  is finished
The school's 4,000 pupils have nowhere to study
Reconstruction - funded by the United States - will involve building 15 new classrooms in an adjacent warehouse, as well as repairing the main school buildings where the bombs fell.

Demolition of the most seriously damaged part began on Monday.

An American soldier, Captain Herb Jollat, said the first phase of repairs would cost $41,000.

It is little more than a shell at the moment - the two-storey building has no roof, the outer walls have collapsed in places, the floor is a carpet of rubble and charred scraps of paper lie among the broken masonry.

'Taleban's last stronghold'

There are anti-Taleban messages scrawled on the walls - most are recent.

Beneath the picture of a turbaned head is the inscription "Death to (Taleban leader) Mullah Omar".

The school was the site of fierce fighting when Mazar fell to opposition forces.

A US soldier plays volleyball with children in the school's ruins
US wants to turn the ruined school into a modern complex
The building was the Taleban's last stronghold in the town, and the battle raged for days.

Then American forces bombed the school, shattering windows in nearby houses and sending up a plume of black smoke.

It is believed that up to 600 Taleban were in the school, but it is not clear how many were killed.

One man said he saw many dead bodies on the street outside.

These were foreign Taleban fighters - Pakistanis and Arabs, not Afghans.

Bodies in rubble

They had not been in the city long and when it began to fall they had no idea where to run, so they became holed up in the school.

American soldiers say it is possible there are still bodies buried in the rubble - a hipbone was found recently.

Workers are demolishing the building by hand, using shovels.

Meanwhile, the school's 4,000 pupils have nowhere to study, and the school year has already begun.

See also:

16 Mar 02 | Americas
Bush sends books to Afghanistan
06 Feb 02 | South Asia
Afghan women embrace new prospects
28 Jan 02 | South Asia
Bush pledges Afghan aid boost
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