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  Residents: 3 Villages Hit by U.S.

By Steve Gutkin
Associated Press Writer
Sunday, Oct. 28, 2001; 4:11 a.m. EST

GHANIKHEIL, Afghanistan –– American warplanes struck three villages near the front line in the plains north of Kabul, killing as many as nine people, villagers told hospital workers on Sunday.

Kate Rowlands, program coordinator of the Italian-run Emergency hospital in nearby Anawa said three villages were bombarded by U.S. planes on Saturday. Two were on the northern alliance side and one was on the Taliban side.

She told a news conference the first village hit was Nikhahil on the Taliban side of the front line. She said wounded patients had crossed the front line on a donkey, arriving after 8 p.m. Saturday.

The patients said they had been told by relatives there that two people had died in the 10 a.m. air strike.

Eight people from Ghanikheil were admitted to the hospital. Relatives there reported that three or four people had been killed in the attack.

The third bombed village was Raqi on the northern alliance side of the front line, Rowlands said. Villages there reported three dead, she said.

"Myself and the staff are deeply shocked, especially when you see a four-year-old and old people coming in," Rowlands said. "It's a tragedy and a shock and it should not happen."

She said all the patients, including those allowed to cross the front line by the Taliban, had been treated and were in stable condition.

In Ghanikheil, standing near mud houses reduced to rubble, distraught villagers on Sunday described the air strike – apparently a stray U.S. bombardment – that hit their village Saturday, killing at least one woman and injuring 10.

"The world shook," said one.

In the village about 1 mile from the fighting on the Shomali plain north of Kabul, one mud house was completely crumbled, and another was partly wrecked. In one of the homes hit, the family had been preparing for a wedding, relatives said.

In Washington, the Pentagon said Saturday it had no information on reports that the village had been hit earlier in the day by American warplanes and that there were civilian casualties.

In the worst-hit house, where villagers said a 20-year-old woman was killed and six others hurt, wreckage was scattered. A dusty bicycle and an empty birdcage could be seen.

Four others were injured in the second house, witnesses said.

"I saw it, when the bomb came," said Mohammed Ibrahim, a commander in the anti-Taliban alliance, who was nearby when the airstrike hit. "The world shook." Those living in one of the houses were his cousins, he said.

Saturday's bombardment was the heaviest of the 3-week-old air campaign along the front lines where opposition troops are confronting Taliban troops north of Kabul.

Another alliance commander, 35-year-old Imam Jan, said the strike had been a mistake. He was not angry, he said, but added: "America should not do this again. We're two kilometers from the front lines. Why did they bombard this place?"

A man named Gulkhan, in his 20s, said he had had left one of the houses to buy flour in the bazaar just before the bomb hit. "I heard the sound of the bomb so I ran back," he said. All those injured were his relatives, he said.

The owner of one of the houses, 70-year-old Amin Ullah, described the attack. "The sound was huge. The plane swooped down – I could hear it dive," he said. "I heard the huge explosion."

Gulkhan, who like many Afghans uses only one name, said: "Everything was gone."

Saturday marked the first day that this sector of the front line was hit. The anti-Taliban rebels had been pressing for heavier airstrikes against the Taliban, complaining that previous bombardment had not been heavy enough to inflict real damage on them.

Britain's Sky News, reporting on the air strike, said just before it, a U.S. Navy F-18 Hornet could be seen headed in the wrong direction toward an area of the anti-Taliban forces.

Moments after the jet fired its missile, it said the opposition's radio reported a bomb hit the village. Sky broadcast pictures from the village showing a young girl with a bloodied face and hand, lying on the ground near piles of rubble and the remaining walls of a house on the edge of the village.

A 7-year-old boy, nestled in the arms of a young man, had cut hands and feet. Nearby, a 22-year-old man, wounded in the abdomen, was shown being transported in a wheelbarrow to the nearest road.

"Why has America attacked us?" an elderly man asked. "We are civilians. We thought America was our friend. Please tell them to stop bombing us."

© Copyright 2001 The Associated Press

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