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Another Eleven Afghan Children Have Been Wiped Out : U.S. cannot Understand that Money can't Pay for Children's Deaths
Understanding the Failure of America in Afghanistan
[Published with specific permission of the author.]
Apr 24, 2003
By Yvonne Ridley

[Ridley made international headlines in 2001 when she entered Afghanistan and was held captive by the Taliban. She was eventually released and became a Muslim as the result of her experience.]

Eleven Afghan children have been wiped out in an air strike on their home by blundering Americans looking for Osama bin Laden. One grieving mother, who has lost all of her nine children, has been given less than 10,000 dollars in blood and hush money and an apology from the US.

Sawara and Mawes Khan had put their nine children to bed after evening prayers in the family home they shared with Mawes brother Sardar, his wife and their seven children . . . hours later their lives changed forever when a laser-guided missile demolished the house. American Special Forces operating in the Paktika district of southern Afghanistan were convinced they had hit a Taliban stronghold.
The US soldiers were on the scene within minutes and beat back would be Afghan rescuers saying there were Taliban inside. But by day break, as the corpses of 11 children lay in a neat row in the demolished courtyard, the Americans began to realise the full extent of their mistake.
After removing twisted chunks of metal from the missile, the soldiers apologised to the villagers of Bermil and took away evidence of the bomb to their base three miles away, near the Pakistan border at Shkin.

Sawara said: "Some say I am a lucky to be alive but I am not a survivor. I can't count myself blessed. I am also a dead person now. "I am dead inside. All my children have gone. My two-year-old boy Hazrat was crushed to death as he lay in my arms. "It is like hell has visited our home. I heard a jet flying low and thought there was too much noise, and then there was nothing. "The next thing I knew I was buried in wood, soil and stone. My nephew was shouting at me and digging around me. Then the Americans arrived. "They pulled everyone away until sunrise then they removed what was left of their missile, said sorry and left. On Tuesday I had a family and by Wednesday I had nothing."

Swara, a stunning-looking woman with high cheek bones and emerald eyes, pulled her red cloak over her braided head to cover her face. She said she hadn't cried yet, but it was obvious her pain and grief are ready to erupt. Her anger at America forces is understandable. "I heard cries from my daughter Irana and if the rescuers had been let in may be she could have been saved. I will never know. "The pain I have will never go away."

Local Afghans in Bermil are outraged by the blunder and as news of it spread through the Paktika region, a senior delegation from the Afghan Interim Government arrived by helicopter with US military.

After landing at the US base in Shkin, a 15-vehicle convoy including 50 armed guards rolled up to Bermil with the delegation including the Governor of Paktika Mohammed Ali Jalali and Shahzada Masoon, the personal adviser to Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan's interim leader. The officials asked to see the Khan brothers who had lost 11 children between them. Mawes and Sardar Ali were then given an apology and 500,000 Afghanis worth around 10,000 US dollars. Four of the injured received the equivalent of 250 US dollars each before the delegation departed with a promise to rebuild the Khan Brothers' home.

"The Americans said 'we did a wrong and we mis-targetted'. What good are their words? I have lost everything. My nine children, my home and my animals," said Mawes, aged 45. He added: "Nothing will ever be able to compensate me for the loss of my family. How can you put a price on a human body? Please tell the world what has happened here. We can do nothing for ourselves; we are very poor, simple people. "All I know is that the Americans make mistakes and then apologise. But they can not buy our silence. An Afghan life is worth just the same as an American life, the same as any life," said Mawes. He was working through the night at a nearby hostel when he heard an explosion. He had no idea that it was the sound of his home taking a direct hit. "There has been a lot of fighting around here between the Taliban and the Americans. They are searching for Osama bin Laden but everyone knows he is not here. "When I heard the bomb drop I had no idea my home had been hit until I arrived in the morning and it was gone. "The Americans were removing their missile bits and said sorry, then they left."

When he walked in to the demolished courtyard Mawes saw the corpses of nine of his children lying next to two of their dead cousins. His daughters Irana, 6, Fatima, 7, Hassana, 10, Bakhmala, 15, Marama, 20, and Bibi 25, were buried last Thursday with their brothers Hazrat, aged two, Noor Wali, five and Sheer Wali, aged 11. Their cousins Syed, two, and 20-year-old Marama, children of Sardar Ali and Zarbakhta Khan were buried in the same service at Bermil village cemetery.

Huge sobs and wails could be heard from many of the 2000 men who arrived for the Muslim service as the 11 bodies, covered in white shrouds were placed in separate graves.

The areas police commander Gul Mohammed, said he and his men helped the family dig the graves because there were so many. Policing in his district has become increasingly difficult in recent weeks because of the American Special Forces presence, and this bombing has increased the tension.

The Khan's nephew also called Gul Mohammed, stood at the graves and said: "They are all Shahids (martyrs), every one of them. They are all innocents, victims of US bombs. "Before they were buried I looked at their faces and they seemed so normal. Their bodies were intact and they looked as though they were sleeping. "The bodies of my cousins are now lying here and I still can not believe it."

In Bermil Village, which is less than a stone's throw from the Pakistan border, many of the families are suffering from shell shock and side effects of the bombing. Neighbouring homes have also been structurally damaged.

Orphan Rahim Ullah, 14, who was taken in by the Khan's five years ago, nursed a badly injured amr which was still bleeding when we arrived on Thursday. His cousin, Izatullah, 12, had suffered a head injury. Both were still numb and dazed by the air strike. The injuries of other victims, including pensioners Mohammed Amir Khan and Khan Zaman are less obvious. Both men are now deaf and blind from the blast. "They have received nothing, not even an apology," said Mawes who, despite his own loss, took time to comfort the two elders who were sitting hunched, sobbing and shaking. Scores of others are clearly traumatised by the bombing but the nearest hospital is in the neighbouring province of Gazny, a 12 hour drive away. Any practical medical help and long-term counselling is unlikely. Few aid agencies work in the area which is regarded as extremely dangerous and the UN recently suspended all operations because of "deteriorating security" following the murder of an International Red cross delegate in nearby Oruzgan last month.

Westerners are thought to be particularly vulnerable as pockets of Taliban fighters and Al Qaeda cells are still active. So-called 'night letters' have been distributed offering $100,000 US dollars for the death of a Westerner. Death threats have also been issued to any Afghans helping foreigners in the region. A pirate radio station called Radio Resistance, also issues similar threats during illegal broadcasts in the southern part of Afghanistan.

The presence of American Special Forces in the district is clearly unwelcome. One villager said: "They come and go and ignore us as though we are animals underneath their feet. "If they left so would the fighters who only come here because they want to kill Americans. The Americans say they want to get Bin Laden but instead they kill us. "The Americans have made too many mistakes. They are not welcome. "Tell the world what they are doing here. They are trying to keep us silent and keep their mistakes quiet so no one will find out. Please let someone knows."

Another villager, who also asked to remain anonymous, added: "Everyone is afraid of the Americans. We just wish they would go. They have done nothing to improve our lives. They openly cause us pain and sadness. "We need Peace Keepers here, not Americans who pay more for their bombs than they do their mistakes."

2003-05-03 Sat 08:47ct