Afghans Live and Die With U.S. Mistakes
Villagers Tell of Over 100 Casualties

TIME Magazine, February 20, 2002
By Susan B. Glasser, Washington Post Foreign Service

CHOWKOR KARIZ, Afghanistan, Feb. 19 -- The Americans came back to this dead village last month, bearing words of contrition and a fragment of rubble from the World Trade Center in New York -- another place, they told survivors, where innocent people died.

The Pentagon continues to call the attack on Chowkor Kariz on Oct. 22 a legitimate military strike and has made no admission of error. But the small group of U.S. officials who traveled here told relatives of dozens of dead civilians that they were "very sorry about it," said Yusuf Pashtoon, a top Afghan official who accompanied the Americans. "They knew it was a mistake."

The intense air war that smashed the Taliban and still seeks to disable or kill its top leaders has left a string of mistakes across southern Afghanistan. In a succession of villages, precision-guidance munitions from U.S. aircraft sometimes hit precisely the wrong targets as pilots and their allies on the ground tried to distinguish between fleeing or hiding targets and vulnerable, exposed civilians.

Even as villages become accessible to outsiders, taking an inventory of civilian casualties is a difficult and inexact science. Visits to five villages near Kandahar over the last week yielded testimony about more than 100 civilian victims of U.S. airstrikes. The accounts from dozens of villagers were corroborated by local commanders, Afghan officials and firsthand inspection of the bomb damage.

The accounts indicate that while being very cautious about hunting Taliban or al Qaeda members on the ground, U.S. forces struck potential targets from the air with less discriminating firepower. As a result, U.S. bombs hit fleeing Taliban convoys, destroyed hidden weapons depots and chased targets who hid in civilian areas. But airstrikes also killed children in their homes, pulverized trucks regardless of their cargo and pounded a Muslim shrine into rubble.

"When the bombs came, I lost 19 of my relatives," Shamsullah, a resident of Chowkor Kariz, said today. He was perched on the remains of a home that belonged to his uncle, Dolat Khan, where seven of relatives died. In the rubble, there are shreds of clothes, pieces of hair, shards of plates.

As at other bomb sites, it is unclear what provoked the airstrike here on the night of Oct. 22. Residents said that the village was not a Taliban or al Qaeda base but was crowded at the time with refugees fleeing Kandahar, 34 miles to the north. A generator spread a beacon of light in the otherwise black landscape, perhaps attracting the warplanes.

Shamsullah said 45 civilians were killed; Pashtoon, the local official, said 39. The village is a ghost town today. Shamsullah said the visiting Americans told relatives, "'We will help you.' They themselves said this was a big mistake." But, he added, "Right now, we don't see any of this help."


By contrast, the U.S. assault in November on Khakriz, a village 43 spectacular miles north of Kandahar, seems to have had a very clear purpose: to find and eliminate the Taliban's fugitive leader, Mohammad Omar, and his retinue.

Over several days of airstrikes, U.S. forces obliterated the local Taliban headquarters in Khakriz, where many of Omar's fighters had massed after fleeing the city, officials and others said. They blew up a weapons cache. They chased, without hitting, a four-car Taliban convoy. And, for five nights, they bombed a village just over the mountain, targeting a cave complex in Asmanzai reported to harbor the Taliban.

But no Taliban fighters were ever reported killed there. Instead, Taliban officials claimed that as many as 300 civilians died in raids on Nov. 8, 9 and 10.

Villagers said the casualty figure was much lower: between 30 and 70 deaths. A famous shrine to Shah Agha, a renowned Sufi mystic, was leveled by the bombing, as were dozens of stores and homes. Most of the civilian dwellings destroyed were less than a mile from the Taliban-controlled district building that was apparently the main target.

The villagers agree that the trouble started when the convoy of four Taliban pickup trucks -- one red, the others black -- came through in the morning of the first attack. "They came on this road," said Noor Ali, gesturing to the stone track behind him. "Because of these Taliban, the bombardment came. But at night, when the bombardment started, they had already evacuated from their places."

Residents said that 18 civilians were killed in Shah Mohammed's house. The bodies of two children were never recovered. The rest of the victims are buried in a common grave, beneath a collection of green flags that gives the impression from a distance of a ship's festive rigging.

"Some of them had their arms cut off, their heads cut off," said Wali Shah, Mohammed's brother. "We found pieces of the children, their hair, nose, bones."

Standing in the ruins, next to early blooming almond trees unscathed in the attack, Shah listed the dead. Five of the 18 were adults, he said, the rest children. "The Americans saw the Taliban vehicles come through this place, but they didn't hit them," he said. "They hit the civilians."

Just down the hill, Nik Mohammed said he lost his mother, father, niece and sister-in-law in the attack. While the bombs fell, he said, "the Taliban were escaping in both directions. Some climbed to the mountains, some to the town."

Villagers here say they do not know how much damage was inflicted on Asmanzai, 1 1/2 hour's walk over the mountain and inaccessible by car. But the Pentagon clearly thought Asmanzai was an important target. One morning about a month ago, the U.S. military returned, in two waves of six helicopters.

"One man showed us a piece of paper saying we are coming here for a search, we don't want to bother anybody," Noor Ali said. "They looked at the caves."

"They searched the caves, but they didn't find anything," said another villager, Khudai Rahim. "They were very suspicious about that place."


In Sanjiri, nine miles west of Kandahar, nobody disputes that civilians were killed in a U.S. airstrike on Nov. 29. But they disagree about what prompted the attack.

It was the 12th night of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and 20 members of Faizal Saddiq's family were asleep. The first bombs struck a house nearby, killing two people, according to neighbors. A few minutes later, the planes returned and sent their missiles crashing into Saddiq's house.

Saddiq survived, but his wife, daughter, son, daughter-in-law, nephew and five grandchildren, ranging in age from 10 years old to 2 months, did not.

"We don't know why this happened," said Saddiq's son, Mohammed Shafiq. "There were some Taliban in this village, but no al Qaeda. And there were no Taliban leaders, just common people."

"No Taliban commanders," interjected Saddiq's other surviving son, Ghulam Mustafa. "Whatever the government is, we join the government. But we are just common people."

But some of their neighbors tell a different story. That night, several people said, important Taliban leaders gathered at Saddiq's house for a meeting; they left before the bombing. Asked about the allegation, Shafiq adamantly denied it. "Propaganda," he said.


Similar doubt followed an attack on Dec. 1 in Khazi Kariz, eight miles south of Kandahar, close to the airport that today is the main U.S. base in Afghanistan. First, the bombs hit Faizal Mohammed's house, according to his neighbors, killing him, his wife, two daughters and son. A third daughter survived.

"I came and I pulled them out," said a neighbor, Wali Jan. The son died on the way to the hospital; the others were already dead. "I swear to God there was no Taliban, no al Qaeda here. If there had been Taliban here, we ourselves would tell America."

While he claimed not to have an explanation, the crowd gathered at a second bombing site in Khazi Kariz offered one.

Villagers pointed to the hulk of an ancient turquoise Russian truck-turned-taxi parked next to a compound of six homes that were destroyed in a direct hit. Three witnesses said they heard someone driving the truck late that night. The truck's owner, Malik Fati Mohammed, had been visiting Faizal Mohammed and returned home around 1 a.m. The bombs that destroyed both of their houses came minutes later.

"This car came out that night and did this to us," said Ghulam Gilani, whose brother, sister-in-law and their two children were among the 10 people killed in the houses next to where the destroyed truck sits. Five more of the dead were the sons of the truck's owner. The 10th was a young man, Sali Mohammed, sleeping alone in his family's house. Five other people, including the truck's owner, were injured.

As Gilani spoke, four U.S. Humvees with machines guns mounted on top patrolled the road that leads to Khazi Kariz. The village is so close to the U.S. military base at the airport that it falls within the Americans' security perimeter.


By Dec. 5, Taliban fighters were fleeing Kandahar and Afghanistan's future leader, Hamid Karzai, had moved his headquarters to the village of Shawalikot, 21 miles north of the city. He was accompanied by about 30 members of the U.S. 5th Special Forces Group, who took over a medical clinic, fixing an "I Love New York" bumper sticker on the wall.

Although Karzai was negotiating by satellite phone for Kandahar's peaceful surrender, an estimated 2,000 Taliban had regrouped a few miles away, in the town of Sarband, and were moving toward Karzai's position. Targeting the Taliban, U.S. bombs crashed inadvertently into the ridge a few hundred yards above Karzai. He ran outside and was wounded in the face; three Americans and 19 Afghan fighters were killed.

Dozens of civilians were also injured or killed in the battle.

"This region was full of Taliban and al Qaeda, that's why innocent people died here," said Sardor Mohammed, district leader in Shawalikot. "The Americans couldn't differentiate between us, that's why people were hit."

By his accounting, at least 35 civilians died. He said two families of kuchis -- Afghan nomads -- were killed when their camp was mistaken for a Taliban position. Twelve are buried in a single grave on the spot; a small boy's prayer cap and a little girl's shoes decorate the resting place. Also killed in Shawalikot, according to the district leader, were four villagers and three visitors from neighboring Uruzgan province.

Down the hill, in the bazaar town where the Taliban fighters were massed, the bombing killed three civilians, he said, and 13 civilians were killed in the village of Argandab.

The town of Sokhchala had the misfortune of sitting between the Taliban position and Karzai. One resident, Malika, said that five people in her family were killed by U.S. missiles and bombs, and six were injured. "We were not the Taliban, we didn't know the Taliban, we were just sitting in our house," around 8:30 p.m., listening to the BBC's Pashto service on the radio. Three bombs hit the house, one after another. Next door, one neighbor was killed, she said.

Today, two of Malika's children are in the Mirwais Hospital in Kandahar. Six-year-old Roholha plays in the grubby yard, recovering from shrapnel that severed his penis. His 17-year-old sister, Maimona, lies in the ward with two legs seriously fractured.

Malika said that on the night of the attack she could find no one to drive her children to the hospital. "The driver was too scared. He said I will not go because the planes in the sky will blow us up," she said.

On the road, the Americans appeared to be hitting anything that moved. Bus driver Abdul Salam was taking four passengers toward Shawalikot when a bomb landed a few yards away around 5 p.m. They fled toward the river. Ten minutes later, the U.S. plane made another pass and this time destroyed the empty bus. Eight people in another bus died, according to Abdul Hakim, a transportation company manager in Kandahar.

"We think that Karzai was telling the Americans not to allow any vehicles to come toward him. That's why the Americans were shooting the vehicles," Salam said.

On Christmas Day, some of the U.S. Special Forces who had been there for the battle returned to Shawalikot to mourn the dead. They sang Christmas carols and raised a U.S. flag on top of the ridge where their fellow soldiers had died. They collected stones from the site and saluted. And when they left, they took the flag with them. Today, a scrap of black cloth tied to a stick is all that marks the place.

© 2002 The Washington Post Company

Bombing a Taliban Religious Ministry Building and Killing 30 Civilians in Proximity, Apr. 22, 2002
by Marc W. Herold

POSTED APRIL 22, 2002 -- In the afternoon (4:30 P.M.) of October 17, U.S. war planes attacked downtown Kandahar city. The ostensible target was the headquarters of the Taliban's Ministry for the Protection of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (Ministry of Amr bil Marouf), located on the central city's Jada Road. Three 500 lb. JDAM bombs were dropped. The first hit an electrical substation located 100 yards away from the Ministry; the second bomb hit and damaged part of the Ministry building; and the third 'precision-guided' bomb struck residences and the like. Kandahar had been without water and electricity since October 15. The only electricity available is from diesel-run generators (but as of October 22, U.S.war planes began attacking trucks bringing-in fuel from Iran). An Indian correspondent writing for the Washington Post from Quetta in early November noted how U.S. bombing of non-military targets was deepening support for the Taliban in Kandahar.1 He also commented on life under U.S. bombs:

"Refugees who said they were from Kandahar described a city with few municipal services in the best of times. The major changes since the bombings began, they said, have been failures in electricity and telephone service. As they have for years, residents use hand pumps to get well water and cook on small wood fires.

The refugees said the city has an ample supply of gasoline, which is trucked in from Iran. In fact, fuel shipments have been moving through the country in such vast quantities that some diesel vendors in Quetta say they make purchases from smugglers at the Afghan border."

Barry Bearak of the New York Times reported that the third bomb had hit a pharmacy killing four civilians and also a tailor shop across the street killing six civilians.2 A report filed later by Eric Slater, mentioned eight civilians being killed by this third bomb.3 A first-hand account provided ample detail:

" Madad Chowk is the busiest intersection in Kandahar. On one side lies the building of the Ministry of Amr bil Maroof (Enjoining of Good). There are shops selling furniture, a Public Call Office and the post office. On the other side is a masjid, car repair shops and shops selling spare parts.

On October 17 it was bombed. Apparently, the Ministry of Arm bill Maroon was targeted. But the timing was murderous: 4:30 PM is one of the busiest times of the day. Planes fired rockets after rockets which hit the Ministry building and the shops next to it. Pedestrians were killed. One rocket fell on a house adjacent to the massaged killing 2 women and children. The rooftops of three homes collapsed. Up to 17 people were killed."4

The independent Afghan Islamic Press (A.I.P.) reported on Wednesday, October 17, speaking via satellite phone with witnesses in the Madad Chowk district of Kandahar, who said bombs had destroyed houses and shops, caused a huge fire.5 No military facilities were close-by. A shopkeeper from Kandahar who had fled to Quetta, said "I've seen the bodies of women and children pulled out of the rubble of their homes."6

Two days later on Friday and Saturday, the U.S. planes returned again to bomb the Ministry building, dropping three more bombs which leveled the building, but also caused carnage in downtown Kandahar, according to refugees who had fled to Chaman in Pakistan. On the 19, the A.I.P. reported seven civilians had been killed and 15 injured in the Friday attack alone. A young man interviewed in Chaman by a CNN correspondent, Amanda Kibel, said he had seen houses bombed that day (the 19th), people trapped under rubble, both dead and injured, and other people desperately trying to pull them out. 7 The U.S. bombs hit the Kepten central shopping bazaar and residences in the Madad area adjacent to the Ministry building, killing 'many' shoppers, I estimated to number at least 15.8 Reuters cited Afghan refugees in Chaman, Pakistan who described the destroyed shopping bazaar, flattened residences.9 Abdul Wadood, 30, said the Madad shopping area was badly damaged by bombs which struck on Friday, the Muslim day of prayer. His two sons were outside the bazaar and they were both hit in the legs, thighs, and arms by flying metal splinters.10 Sultana Bibi, 50, was in the bazaar with her two daughters when the U.S. bomb struck. She experienced injuries to her head, nose and eyes, and remained mute in Mir Wais hospital.11 Mohammed Ghaus, who crossed into Pakistan with his wife and five children, stated that: “On Thursday night around 10 p.m. and yesterday at 2 p.m. and again last night, there was heavy bombing. The bazaar around the Keptan intersection in the city center was flattened. My neighbor’s house was destroyed. That’s why we left.”

Mohammed Zaman, 45, said he saw people wounded in the legs and arms after Friday's attacks in the afternoon and at night on the center of town. He said several projectiles hit the bazaar. The "bombing was very heavy,'' he said.12

The Times' Stephen Ingram, there 10 days after the U.S. attack, writes similarly:

"..up the street, normality gives way to devastation. A row of little shops has been flattened as though with a giant fist. A metal sign reading 'Hilal Pharmacy' pokes through the rubble. A few men pick through the ruins with bare hands. It is ten days, locals say, since a bomb landed on the row of shops early one afternoon out of a clear blue sky. Two men sitting in front of their shops were killed. No one seems quite able to agree on how many other casualties there were."13

Behind the destroyed shops was the damaged green building of the Ministry of Vice and Virtue.

In Chaman, Richard Lloyd Parry of The Independent, interviewed a 37 year-old man, Abdullah, who arrived in Chaman on the 24th:

"…. with his wife, two children and five nephews….. Last Saturday afternoon, he said, he saw bombs falling on Madad Chowk, one of the busiest crossings in Kandahar. By the time he got there, there were bodies and injured people everywhere. "I saw a man whose body was cut in two at his waist, and a man with no legs," he said."14

No mention other than in the lone article by Barry Bearak in the U.S. mainstream press. Four months later, MSNBC ran a story on the contents 'discovered' in the building of the Ministry for the Protection of Virtue, beginning with a photo that children are flying kites in the clear blue sky again in the district:

A boy flies a kite in front of the destroyed building of the Taliban's Ministry for the Protection of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in downtown Kandahar [source: ]

No mention of the 30 Kandaharis killed by U.S. bombs in afternoons with clear blue skies. They are unworthy bodies, undeserving of remembrance here. And kites fly again and satellite dish sales were booming in February receiving 170 channels - four of them showing nothing but porn in a discrete repudiation of the one-time Ministry of Virtue and Vice.15


1. Rajiv Chandrasekaran, "Support Deepens for Taliban, Refugees Report," Washington Post [November 8, 2001].

2. Robert Nickelsberg and Barry Bearak, "On a Taliban-Guided Tour, Facts Prove Elusive," New York Times [November 1, 2001], an A.P report.

3. Eric Slater, "These Spies Called the Shots in Strikes Against the Taliban," Los Angeles Times [February 24, 2002].

4. Suleman Ahmer, "Night of Death in Kandahar: An Eyewitness Account," posted November 4, 2001, at:

5. "Taliban Seize UN Food Warehouses," The Guardian [October 17, 2001].

6. "Civilian Casualties of U.S Bombs in Afghanistan Continue to Rise," Islam OnLine [October 18, 2001], at :

7. on CNN Sunday Morning [October 21, 2001 - 10:24 E.T].

8. John Fullerton, "Refugees Say US Planes Blitzed Bazaars," Reuters [Oct. 22, 2001]; but also BBC News Online [October 19, 2001], "US Planes Destroyed Kandahar Bazaars," Frontier Post [October 22, 2001], and France's l'Humanite [October 22, 2001].

9. BBC News [October 19, 2001], Reuters [October 20, 2001], and Reuters, "Refugees Say U.S Planes Destroyed Kandahar Bazaars," dated October 22, 2001. Also John Fullerton, "Refugees Say U.S Planes Destroyed Kandahar Bazaars," Reuters dated October 20, 2001and Mark Baker, "A Once Grand City [Kandahar] Reduced to Ruins," Sydney Morning Herald [October 25, 2001].

10. "U.S Planes Destroyed Kandahar Bazaar," Frontier Post [October 22, 2001].

11. mentioned in Altaf Hussein, "In Kandahar, Life in the Cross-Hairs," Reuters [November 3, 2001].

12. Frontier Post, op. cit.

13. Stephen Ingram, "A Tale of Two Cities in Taleban Capital," Times [November 1, 2001].

14. Richard Lloyd Parry, "For Those Fleeing This is a Border in Name Only," The Independent [October 26, 2001].

15. Andrew Marshall "Staid Afghan City Tunes Into the World of Porn," Reuters [February 14, 2002], at : . See also Barbie Dutter, "Give Us Liberty, Give Us Hope, Give US Arnie in Terminator," Sydney Morning Herald [December 18, 2001], at :
December 29, 2001

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December 11, 2001
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Common Dreams
December 10, 2001
More Than 3,500 Civilians Killed

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