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Last Updated: Monday, 8 December, 2003, 15:07 GMT
Afghan villagers shattered by attack

Crispin Thorold
BBC correspondent, Hutala village, Afghanistan

An account of the aftermath of a US air-attack last Saturday that left nine children dead.

The peace of Hutala village has been shattered.

US military helicopters, take off and land, throwing up dust devils.

Afghan villager Sarwar Khan
Sarwar Khan's two sons, and one of his nephews, were killed

Villagers, sitting on their haunches, watch impassively.

They are huddled around a heap of hats and shoes, which have been ripped by shrapnel.

Marbles are scattered across the ground.

Nine children and one man died here on Saturday morning, when two US-military planes, targeting what a coalition spokesman described as a "known terrorist", opened fire with rockets and bullets.

Picking up a dusty hat, villager Sarwar Khan says: "This is all that remains of one of my boys".

His two sons and one of his nephews were killed.

Wrong target

An American military team have already removed the shrapnel and bullet casings.

Patches of dried blood, and the pitiful pile of hats and shoes, are the only evidence that remains of a bombing raid that went horribly wrong.

Residents of Hutala
Local inhabitants deny the US version of events
The intended target was Mullah Wazir, a former member of the Taliban, described by the United States ambassador in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, as a "financier, facilitator, and organiser of terrorist attacks".

Locals say he is a businessman who imports motorcycles from Iran.

The Americans are insistent they killed the man, but people in the village say Mullah Wazir left 10 days ago, after another raid nearby.

Mullah Wazir's house is just 30 metres from where the villagers died, but it remains intact, even the windows aren't broken.

A 25-year-old was killed in the attack, but the villagers deny he was involved in terrorism.

Abdul Muhammad's mother says he had just returned home, after three years digging wells in Iran, he was due to be married in five days.

The spokesman for the US-led coalition in Afghanistan, Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Hilferty, visited Hutala on Sunday.

He expressed regret for the death of innocent civilians, saying "this tragic incident must be investigated".

On Sunday evening, the American army was still in the village.

The clean-up operation was efficient, but that was little consolation for Abdul Mohammad's mother.

No-one had been to see her; she had been given no explanation for her son's death.

Pashtun pain

Many questions remain unanswered. What was the extensive intelligence the Americans say they gathered, over a number of weeks?

Afghan caps strewn after attack
Only a few hats and shoes remain on the ground
How could the planes have so clearly missed their target?

This village nestled in jagged mountains, in a remote area of the Pashtun heartland, will never quite be the same again, but the pain this attack has caused is being felt across the country, particularly by other Pashtuns.

The majority ethnic group is already deeply disenchanted with the new political dispensation in Afghanistan, and the interim government's perceived closeness to the United States.

Events like this only serve to alienate the population yet further, driving, it could be argued, yet more young men into the hands of the militants.

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