Alarm Grows Over Scale of Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan

One week after United States-led forces began bombarding Afghanistan, disturbing evidence is emerging of unacceptably high civilian casualties and ill-defined military and political objectives…the military efficacy of destroying deserted training camps, civilian airports and the Taliban’s
minuscule air force was being increasingly questioned by diplomats as well as ordinary Afghans and Pakistanis.

One week after United States-led forces began bombarding Afghanistan, disturbing evidence is emerging of unacceptably high civilian casualties and ill-defined military and political objectives.

Afghans reaching the Pakistani city of Peshawar 60 kilometres from the border said the bombing on Friday of Kadam, a small rural community in Surkh
Rud district near the eastern city of Jalalabad, had killed scores, possibly hundreds, of civilians.

Informed sources in Peshawar have told of many casualties arriving from Afghanistan for emergency treatment at the city’s hospitals.

Authorities deny the claims: a Hayatabad spokesman said only two people had been treated for war-related injuries, but a ban on doctors speaking to the media has led to speculation about a cover-up to avoid inciting public
criticism of the Pakistani Government’s support for the air strikes.

Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers have no such qualms. Yesterday they dropped a month-long ban on Western journalists reporting from areas they control to bus in a small party representing global media outlets to show them the devastation of Kadam.

The hamlet lies 120 kilometres east of Kabul at the base of a mountain range where Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network used to run training camps for Islamic militants from around the world. But the camps were evacuated weeks ago, when it became clear the US was preparing to strike.

"Nearly all the villagers are dead. The wounded, mostly children and infants, have been taken to hospital in Jalalabad," a correspondent for the Arabic television station al-Jazeera reported. He quoted unnamed Taliban
officials as claiming that more than 160 bodies had been recovered from the rubble.

Western aid workers were at a loss to explain the apparent extent of the casualties, as houses in the area tend to be widely dispersed. But Afghans
crossing the border said many people from Jalalabad had taken refuge in the hamlet.

As US-led air strikes continued into yesterday, the military efficacy of destroying deserted training camps, civilian airports and the Taliban’s
minuscule air force was being increasingly questioned by diplomats as well as ordinary Afghans and Pakistanis.

Afghans who have taken refuge across the border in Pakistan in recent days say the bombing is rapidly turning civilians in the ethnic Pashtun belt of southern Afghanistan against the US, and bolstering support for the Taliban.

"When we entered Kabul we saw huge fireballs in areas near the airport. These bombs are terrorising the civilian population. Since the strikes began, people are turning against America," said Alozai, a truck driver who
helped deliver UN food aid to Kabul last week.

The lack of truck drivers willing to risk the journey has disrupted the UN’s delivery of 57,000 tonnes of food that must reach Afghanistan before the
onset of winter in about a month if famine is to be avoided. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has called for suspension of the bombing to allow
aid deliveries.

Author: Christopher Kremmer – correspondent in Peshawar

News Service: Sydney Morning Herald

URL: http://www.smh.com.au/news/0110/15/world/world8.html