Village of death casts doubts over US intelligence
By Philip Smucker in Gluco, northern Afghanistan
(Filed: 21/11/2001)

TERRIFIED Afghan villagers, in an area abandoned by the Taliban, yesterday described how Allied bombers circled their village for the third time in two days, before launching air strikes that killed seven residents.

Their wooden homes looked like piles of charred matchsticks. Injured mules lay braying in the road along the mountain pass that stank of sulphur and dead animals.

The strikes, which killed the seven on Monday and four on Sunday, suggest that western military intelligence on the ground around the Khyber Pass where many Arabs have escaped into Pakistan, is not good as it might be.

Pathan tribal leaders in the regional capital, Jalalabad, said that no effort had been made by Washington or London to learn the details of the new positions taken up by former anti-Soviet freedom fighters now fighting with the Allies.

The pass is a long way from the main target of Allied strikes in the area at the notorious al-Qa'eda terrorist base, which is also in Afghanistan's White Mountains that run from the Pakistani border south of Jalalabad.

"Everyone in this village is against the terrorists that the US and the UK are fighting," said Haji Qadeer, the governor of the region around the city of Jalalabad. "Killings of people on our side are going to hurt the political efforts to form a solid anti-terrorist coalition here."

Villagers described in detail how bombers circled overhead for several minutes before every heavy air strike.

The mess in Gluco was scattered across a mountain pass normally used to smuggle everything from opium and heroin to Japanese television sets on the backs of camels, mules and horses. Until 10 days ago, several Arab families had lived in the area, but five days ago, the mountain village fell under the control of pro-western mujahideen forces.

A village headman said that the seven villagers, most of them women and children, were killed in the bombing on Monday. It was clear from the huge craters made all along in the mountain pass that the bombers had targeted people moving along the trail.

The headman told the story to the governor, a member of their Shinwari Pathan tribe, who led three journalists, including The Telegraph representative to the village late yesterday afternoon.

The presence in the village of Mr Qadeer, the brother of the Pathan leader Abdul Haq, who was killed three weeks ago by Taliban forces, put paid to the idea that any militant Arabs were near the village which is only a few miles from the main Khyber Pass border crossing between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The headman said: "How can this be a mistake? Even the Russians couldn't bomb us because we had time to run from them. We have had no way to defend ourselves this time."

Maulavi Mohamad Mohamad, a religious leader, said: "Please tell the Americans that they are bombing their allies.

"We are poor people and we have never supported the Arabs. This is the third time in two days that our village has been bombed."

Terrified men and young boys buried the bodies of 11 villagers yesterday afternoon. After the first two raids on Gluco, villagers had written a large, 10ft sign in the English language and placed it on top of their school.

It read simply "This is a school."

Mr Mohamad said: "If the Americans can see a tank from the air, why can't they read our sign?"

Governor Qadeer and the journalists with him sped away from the bombed village at dusk as the villagers warned of their fears of yet another air raid