Afghan Opposition Warns U.S. Over Civilian Deaths
Wednesday October 24, 2001 - 10:17 AM ET
By Elizabeth Piper
KHOJA BAHAWUDDIN, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Afghanistan's opposition urged the United States and its allies Wednesday to work harder to prevent civilian casualties in its military campaign against the ruling Taliban.
Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, the opposition's foreign minister, said bombing raids against Taliban positions had inflicted more pain on a people who had already suffered under the rule of ''terrorists.''
``I think more attention has to be paid to avoid casualties in the aftermath (of bombing raids),'' he told a news conference.
``A major concern is that of civilian casualties... which have to be avoided by any means. They have suffered for so long under the rule of terrorist groups... and now they are suffering in a different way.''
Abdullah, on his way to meet commanders in the northeastern town of Khoja Bahawuddin, said the opposition Northern Alliance had received confirmed accounts of civilian casualties during the bombing raids.
He said many Afghans had been killed or wounded in the southern city of Kandahar and eastern city of Jalalabad in the strikes, which Washington and its allies launched earlier this month.
While the United States has dismissed the Taliban claims of more than 1,000 civilian deaths, they have confirmed that some bombs have gone astray.
The United Nations said Tuesday a military hospital had been destroyed by bombing in the western city of Herat on Monday but it had no information on casualties. A U.S. defense official said in Washington U.S. forces might have accidentally hit a home for the elderly.
But most reports, such as a story by the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press Wednesday that 52 people were killed in the village of Chakor Kariz in southern Afghanistan, were impossible to verify.
HELP REBUILD AFGHANISTAN
The airstrikes have been targeted at Taliban camps and frontlines after the hard-line Islamist refused to surrender Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden, prime suspect behind the attacks on U.S. landmarks.
``Yes this is not the target, and we know the target is the terrorist camps and the bases of the Taliban... but the strikes have exacerbated the problem (of people fleeing their homes),'' Abdullah said.
``How to get the targets without hitting the civilians... needs to be dealt with in a very serious manner.''
Abdullah said the Northern Alliance, which has fought the Taliban since it took Afghanistan's capital Kabul in 1996, and the United States military were cooperating, but more could be done.
``We are in contact with the Americans, we have considered all aspects of cooperation... (But) better coordination would bring better results, there is no doubt about it,'' he said.
``But our expectations are realistic,'' he said, adding that the recent bombing of a Northern Alliance position was an unfortunate mistake and should be avoided in future.
Abdullah called on the United Nations to help Afghanistan's future reconstruction, saying the country needed to rebuild its health service, schools and demine swathes of land.
He said the international community had offered aid, but Afghans did not want charity.
``Afghanistan has... great potential in a peaceful time,'' he said. ``We have to pass through... this phase of charity quickly and focus on reconstruction.''
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