US Air Strike: Isolated in Taliban bastion capital

Jason Burke, one of the few Western reporters still in Afghanistan, describes the fear on the streets as the American bombs landed
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The Independent Online
THE STREETS of Kandahar are quiet now but none of the dozen or so foreigners here knows how long this will last.

There are only a handful of Westerners in the dusty desert city that is the headquarters of the Taliban, who have sheltered Osama bin Laden since he left Sudan. Many have left the city over the past few days after the British High Commission and US diplomats in Islamabad warned of serious risks to their safety.

One flight left this afternoon and another was scheduled for Sunday but the feeling among the Westerners, who heard of the bombings of the sites in Afghanistan on the BBC at about 11.45pm local time, is that our fate is still to be decided.

It is difficult to describe the isolation one feels, sitting in an unguarded United Nations compound in perhaps the most militantly Islamic country in the world, when a local hero and guest of the government is the target of air strikes by the American "Great Satan".

Our hope is that the Taliban may have struck a deal with the Americans, perhaps giving them the details of Bin Laden's whereabouts in return for recognition by Washington as the legal government of Afghanistan.

If so, the Taliban might be likely to protect us against the anger of the mob, which everyone expects to materialise at any minute beyond the walls of the UN compound.

If not, it is difficult to say what is likely to happen. There is anger at the United States and at the UN for not making the danger clearer to foreign aid staff in Afghanistan.

Recent warnings from the UN have told staff merely to stay in their bases and not to travel around unnecessarily.

With the airport 20 miles away, on the other side of this city of 300,000 people - where Mullah Mohammad Omar, the Afghan Taliban leader, lives in a house that Bin Laden himself built - the business of reaching safety will clearly not be simple.

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