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Last Updated: Thursday, 31 May 2007, 06:23 GMT 07:23 UK
Afghans' anger over US bombings
By Alastair Leithead
BBC News, Afghanistan

Mohammad Zarif Achakzai with his wife Khwara and mother Hafiza
Mohammad Zarif Achakzai and his wife lost their son

Each time the old woman breathed out you could hear a small groan of pain as she sat, her head in one hand, her other shoulder shattered by shrapnel and fixed in a coarse plaster.

Her son Mohammad and his wife Khwara sat next to her - they were mourning the death of their 18-year-old son and her brother.

Both were among 57 killed - almost half of them women and children - when American forces bombed their village in Shindand, western Afghanistan, and destroyed 100 homes.

"The bombardments were going on day and night," said Mohammad Zarif Achakzai, who had to flee their mud house in the Zerkoh Valley.

"Those who tried to get out somewhere safe were being bombed. They didn't care if it was women, children or old men."

We have no reports that confirm to us that non-combatants were injured or killed out in Shindand
Brig Gen Joseph Votel

Khwara explained how it started: "Americans came to the village without consulting any elders," she said.

"They just came into to the women's part of the house, so we women went to the elders, and we told them if you don't stop this, we women will stand against them."

Remembering what happened she began to get angry: "Death to America," she shouted. "Death to the America that killed my son."


The US special forces were in the valley looking for an arms cache. Shindand is not under Taleban control, but intelligence reports suggest some locals may have been gun-running for them.

Baryaly Noorzai, his wife Najiba and baby Mirwais
Even under the Russians we haven't witnessed bombardments like it before
Baryaly Noorzai

Baryaly Noorzai was knocked out by a bomb, while he and his wife and child were fleeing their home.

He described how it was only after the villagers were angered by culturally insensitive house searches that they picked up guns and took on the American military machine.

"When the Americans came the people started fighting them back, and then the planes came and started bombing us.

"Even under the Russians we haven't witnessed bombardments like it before."

The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) investigated the accounts and identified that at least 25 of those killed in Shindand were women and children.

But the commander of US operations for Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, Brig Gen Joseph Votel, denied these reports.

"We have no reports that confirm to us that non-combatants were injured or killed out in Shindand," he said, justifying the use of 2,000lb bombs against mud houses.

"If there are insurgents that are effectively engaging our forces and they happen to be coming from a building we would make every use we can of technology we have, and precision weapons, to eliminate the threat and minimise the effects of collateral damage."

Cultural taboo

And there have been a large number of civilians killed recently - more than 70 in three months according to the AIHRC commissioner, Nader Naderi.

"In all of these incidents it was the coalition forces or their special forces that were involved rather than NATO," he said.

Foreign troops are like powerful drugs that cure a disease but have side effects as well
President Karzai

He explained how much of a cultural taboo it is entering homes, or women's rooms, uninvited.

"If something like that happens then the honour of the family and of that man would be under question.

"It makes those men - who are very, very conservative - very upset and very angry, and they would be ready to do whatever they can do to stop it or to prevent it or to regain their honour that was lost."

There are two missions in Afghanistan: Nato's International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), which has 37,000 troops from 37 countries, including America, which is helping the Afghan government bring security, development and better governance.

But there is also the US-led coalition under the banner of Operation Enduring Freedom - a counter-terrorism mission outside Nato's mandate which involves mainly special forces.

They have been blamed for shootings and bombings and tension between the two missions is increasing.

'Side effects'

One of the buildings damaged by the bombs in the Zerkoh Valley was a school, built just a few months earlier by Italian Nato troops.

President Karzai held a shura, or traditional gathering, in Shindand district to try and calm angry emotions after the bombing which had led to rioting in the streets.

"We know that the presence of foreign troops some times makes problems, but imagine if these troops were not in Afghanistan?" he asked in response to accusatory heckling from the crowd.

"Don't you think there will be a government in every street? Won't we go back to years of hunger, devastation and miseries? Foreign troops are like powerful drugs that cure a disease but have side effects as well."

For now Afghanistan needs, and largely welcomes, the presence of the international forces, but with every civilian killed, the divide widens.

You can see Alastair Leithead's film on BBC1 10 o'clock news and Newsnight at 10.30pm on BBC2 on 31 May.

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