"KABUL, Afghanistan — Sayed Karim, 72, is now all alone.The elderly, white-bearded man bowed his turbaned head as he told of the 13 members of his family who were killed in a May 4 air strike by U.S. forces in Farah province, on Afghanistan’s western border.
“I am no longer young,” he sighed. “I cannot build a new life.”
Here’s what one villager who survived the attack says happened that day.
The fighting first broke out during the day when 300 Taliban converged on the area to collect taxes from local residents on the proceeds of the recent poppy harvest. Afghan army and police forces failed in their effort to drive off the insurgents. That’s when they called for help from the Coalition Quick Reaction Force.
“It was eight in the evening when the fighting between the government and the Taliban stopped,” said Abdul Mohammad, 35, a resident of Granai, one of the villages where the fighting occurred. “We thought it was over. But an hour later we heard the drone of the airplanes. I became very nervous and told everyone in my family to get out of the house. There were Taliban around, but when they heard the noise of the planes, they escaped,” he said.
In Farah province, Mohammad said, there is a tradition of seeking sanctuary with local leaders in times of danger. This is what the villagers did, he said, as many sought shelter in the compounds belonging to tribal elders.
“All the families, the women and children, did this,” he said. “We thought we would be safe there.”
Instead, the compounds became a main target for an air strike by B-1 bombers that began around midnight.
“My wife and two children were martyred,” Mohammad said. “I was outside, so I was just thrown back by the shock wave and injured slightly. Others were killed by the blast, and by the terrible, terrible smoke.” Mohammad also says he suffered burns he believes may have been cause by bombs that contained white phosphorous, a controversial chemical.
“At first I had just a small wound on my shoulder, but it has been spreading steadily. I went to Herat for treatment, and you can see, my wound is getting bigger by the day. The doctors say it is caused by some sort of chemical irritant,” he said.
Abdul Jabar Shayeq, the head of the department of public health for Farah province, was reluctant to speculate about the issue. But he acknowledged that some of the injuries he witnessed raised questions.
“The wounded people transferred to the central hospital of Farah have terrible signs of burns on their bodies, which clearly indicates that a serious chemical substance was used,” he said. “But we cannot definitely say whether or not it was white phosphorous. … We cannot say anything about it, though, because this issue has political dimensions.” Col. Gregory Julian, a U.S. military spokesman, was emphatic that U.S. forces did not use white phosphorous during the attack, and blamed the Taliban for spreading the rumor.
“White phosphorous was not used by either side – but the Taliban tried to throw that out there to stir up more public outcry,” he said.
Regardless of the final death toll or the nature of the weapons used, Farah now joins a long list of incidents that have soured relations between the Afghan government and Washington, as well as between civilians and Coalition forces.
U.S. officials acknowledge such incidents make it almost impossible for the government in Kabul and coalition forces to defeat the insurgents....*******************
Both sides of the conflict are using the Farah incident in their efforts to win the hearts and minds of average Afghans.
The U.S. military accused the Taliban of “deliberately placing civilians in harm’s way and callously and cynically manipulating civilian lives for their political purposes.” The Taliban blame the Americans for the civilians’ deaths.
“The invaders send their forces wherever they want … the Taliban never use civilians as shields,” said Qari Yusuf Ahmadi, a spokesman for the Taliban.
“(The Taliban) are not enemies of the people,” he said. “They are there to defend the people, to defend their rights and their honor, and to defend Islam. The foreigners bomb people. When they are hurt they take it out on the innocent population.”
Meanwhile, the villagers feel trapped in the middle.
“What can we do?” said Abdul Manaan, shaking his head. “We cannot stand up to either the government or the Taliban. Both sides have guns, and both sides use us as shields. What have we done that we should be the ones getting killed?”--MORE--"
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