In Marjah: 'Everyone is hiding. My family are very scared'

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The populous Taliban stronghold of Marjah has, say residents, become a ghost town. Shops are shuttered, streets deserted and most inhabitants are hiding inside their mud-brick houses wondering when their "day of doom" will come.

Ghafar Jan, a 32-year-old farm labourer, said powerful explosions had cast a pall of dust and smoke over the area, and that the "lightning" of rockets was visible from his house.

"The Taliban are here and fighting back at the Americans," he told The Independent by phone. "We hear shouts of 'Allahu Akbar' and see their rockets falling on the coalition. But I cannot see the fighters themselves."

Like other inhabitants of the town, he said he and his family of nine had taken shelter in the basement of their mud-brick house, where they usually keep livestock. It is the safest place to hide. "People are poor and don't have strong houses," Mr Jan said.

Others said that on the first night the fighting eased off and the growl of warplanes replaced the thud of explosions. Through the gloom, figures could be seen walking the streets and teams of Taliban fighters were said to be falling back into the town to dig themselves in. They are surrounded, with no way out.

Haji Said Ajan, a 50-year-old farmer with a family of 12, from a different part of town, said he didn't dare leave his house for fear of being mistaken for an insurgent and killed by a helicopter gunship.

"You can't find a single human being out there; you don't see any cars on the streets. Everyone is hiding in their homes, and my family, especially my kids, are very, very scared.

"We don't know when this day of doom will finish," he said, "or whether we will ever know another peaceful day, or whether we will all die when a bomb strikes my mud-wall house."