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IUK: Fisk - Blood, tears, terror and tragedy behind the lines
By Robert Fisk
29/11/2001 12:11 am Thu
By Robert Fisk, the only Western journalist in
Taliban-held Kandahar province
26 November 2001
"You'll never get through,'' the Taliban man shouted at me. "The
Northern Alliance are shooting into Takhta-Pul and the Americans
are bombing the centre of the town.''
"Impossible," I said. Takhta-Pul is only 24 miles away, a few minutes
ride from the Afghan border town of Spin Boldak. But then a refugee
with a cracked face and white hair matting the brow below his brown
turban he looked 70 but said he was only 36 stumbled up to us.
"The Americans just destroyed our homes,'' he cried. "I saw my
house disappear. It was a big plane that spat smoke and soaked the
ground with fire.''
For a man who couldn't read and had never left Kandahar province
in all his life, it was a chilling enough description of the Spectre, the
American "bumble bee'' aircraft that picks off militiamen and civilians
with equal ferocity. And down the tree-lined road came hundreds
more refugees old women with dark faces and babies carried in the
arms of young women in burqas and boys with tears on their faces
all telling the same stories.
Mullah Abdul Rahman slumped down beside me, passed his hand
over the sweat on his face and told me how his brother a fighter in
the same town had just escaped. "There was a plane that shot
rockets out of its side,'' he said, shaking his head. "It almost killed
my brother today. It hit many people.''
So this is what it's like to be on the losing side in the
American-Afghan bloodbath. Everywhere it was the same story of
desperation and terror and courage. An American F-18 soared
above us as a middle-aged man approached me with angry eyes.
"This is what you wanted, isn't it?'' he screamed. "Sheikh Osama is
an excuse to do this to the Islamic people.''
I pleaded with yet another Taliban fighter a 35-year-old man with
five children called Jamaldan to honour his government's promise
to get me to Kandahar. He looked at me pityingly. "How can I get
you there,'' he asked, "when we can hardly protect ourselves?''
The implications are astonishing. The road from the Iranian border
town of Zabul to Kandahar has been cut by Afghan gunmen and US
special forces. The Americans were bombing civilian traffic and the
Taliban on the road to Spin Boldak, and Northern Alliance troops
were firing across the highway. Takhta-Pul was under fire from
American guns and besieged by the Alliance. Kandahar was being
No wonder I found the local Taliban commander, the thoughtful and
intelligent Mullah Haqqani, preparing to cross the Pakistani border to
Quetta for "medical reasons''.
Kandahar may not be the Taliban Stalingrad not yet but tragedy
was the word that came to mind. Out of a dust-storm came a woman
in a grey shawl. "I lost my daughter two days ago,'' she wailed. "The
Americans bombed our home in Kandahar and the roof fell on her.''
Amid the chaos and shouting, I did what reporters do. Out came my
notebook and pen. Name? "Muzlifa.'' Age? "She was two.'' I turn
away. "Then there was my other daughter.'' She nods when I ask if
this girl died too. "At the same moment. Her name was Farigha. She
was three.'' I turn away. "There wasn't much left of my son.''
Notebook out for the third time. "When the roof hit him, he was turned
to meat and all I could see were bones. His name was Sherif. He
was a year and a half old.''
They came out of a blizzard of sand, these people, each with their
story of blood. Shukria Gul told her story more calmly. Beneath her
burqa, she sounded like a teenager. "My husband Mazjid was a
labourer. We have two children, our daughter Rahima and our son
Talib. Five days ago, the Americans hit a munitions dump in
Kandahar and the bullets came through our house. My husband was
killed. He was 25.''
At the Akhtar Trust refugee camp, I found Dr Ismael Moussa, just up
from Karachi, a doctor of theology dispensing religion along with
money for widows. "The Americans have created an evil for
themselves," he said. "And it will pay for this. The Almighty Lord
allows a respite to an oppressor, enough rope to hang itself, until He
seizes him and never lets go.''
Seizing, it seems, was also on the mind of the Foreign Office,
earnestly warning reporters that Taliban invitations to Kandahar were
a trap to kidnap foreign journalists. Given the politeness of even the
most desperate Taliban yesterday, this may fit into the
"interesting-if-true" file. Dr Moussa suggested a more disturbing
reason: the desire to prevent foreign correspondents witnessing in
Kandahar the kind of war crimes committed by Britain's friends in the
Northern Alliance at the fall of Mazar-i-Sharif.
As for Mullah Najibullah, the Taliban's only foreign ministry
representative this side of Kandahar, he looked tired and deeply
depressed, admitting he had left Spin Boldak the previous night and
had not slept since. But Kandahar was calm, he claimed. The
Taliban's Islamic elders continued to stay there. Later, he admitted
that all Taliban men had been ordered to leave Spin Boldak on
Saturday night for fear that Alliance gunmen would invade the
camps disguised as refugees.
"Only God Almighty has allowed the Muslims to continue to fight the
great armed might of the United States,'' he added. If he had looked
out the window, he would have seen the contrails of the bomber
streams heading for Kandahar.
It was an eerie phenomenon. Taliban men rifles over their shoulders stared into the sun, up high into the burning light through which four white columns of smoke burnt from jet engines across the sky. I stood behind them and wondered at the battle I had watched for 20 years: a swaying host of eighth-century black turbans and, just behind them, the contrails of a B-52 heading in from Diego Garcia. God against technology.