Before Attack, 'We Never Heard the Sound of the Planes'
According to a half-dozen survivors from two of the villages interviewed at a hospital here in Kandahar, however, there were no attacks on U.S. forces in their vicinity, only a raucous late-night wedding celebration of about 300 people that included the traditional, exuberant spraying of rifle fire into the air.
"It was my brother Malik's wedding. We were all so happy and clapping. Then the bombs came and I saw people running and shouting and falling," said Chemana, 18, who was lying in the hospital with a broken leg. Her hands were painted with henna dye for the wedding. A blood-spattered baby cried in a metal cradle beside her.
The bride and groom were not at the party and survived, but many of their relatives were killed, said the survivors in Kandahar, where they were recovering from injuries or had brought wounded relatives for treatment.
"Fifteen people from my home are dead. My wife, my brother, everyone is dead. We don't know why the Americans hate us," said Abdul Bari, 30, a farmer from Kakarak village who was glumly cradling his heavily bandaged, 6-year-old nephew in a hospital bed.
The boy, Ghulam, rocked and whimpered, asking for water and pleading for someone to remove the painful shunt in his badly injured chest, which was being drained. Doctors at Mir Weis Hospital said Ghulam, whose parents were both killed, almost died Monday night but was stable and improving today.
American officials have said U.S. ground and air forces were patrolling the area because of reports that some Taliban or al Qaeda forces might remain there, and some Afghan officials said they believe Mohammad Omar, the Taliban leader, might be hiding in the remote, largely roadless region about 100 miles northwest of here.
But Bari and other survivors said there were no Taliban or al Qaeda fighters in Kakarak or nearby Miandao, which were both celebrating the wedding alliance between two prominent tribal families. They said they were supporters of the Afghan government, led by Hamid Karzai, and that many were from his ethnic Pashtun tribe.
"If there were Taliban or Arabs in the area, they would never have let us make such a wedding party," said Amillah, 35, Shahbibi's husband, a farmer who brought her to the hospital Monday. "They did not allow people to make music or dance or beat drums; they said it was not Islamic."
Several survivors described seeing their friends and relatives blown to bits before their eyes, but others said there was too much darkness and confusion to locate their loved ones as they fled. One woman said children had been sleeping on a roof and were killed instantly by bombs.
One scenario offered by some U.S. defense officials today suggested the casualties may have been near the antiaircraft batteries targeted by the AC-130. Asked about this possibility, Newbold said he had no information that would confirm or dispute it. But he and Clarke, the Pentagon spokeswoman, noted that it was not uncommon for al Qaeda and the Taliban to place weapons and fighters in civilian areas.
Bari said U.S. troops had entered his village shortly after the bombing and had treated several injured children, but other survivors complained that U.S. and Afghan forces had blocked the roads and refused to let anyone but wounded victims drive to Kandahar.
The survivors insisted that firing guns was a routine custom at weddings in rural Afghanistan, where most men own rifles and armed clashes are common in disputes among tribal groups.
But several women injured in the bombing said they had asked their male relatives to stop the practice, and Karzai issued a plea Tuesday for Afghans to refrain from wedding gunfire as long as foreign military forces are patrolling the country.
Staff writer Bradley Graham in Washington contributed to this report.
© 2002 The Washington Post Company