'It was if the rocks themselves were on fire'

Eye witness
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The Independent Online

The young man named Mujawar was bleeding from the head when they pulled him out of the rubble in Kabul, and because of the way he stared and muttered to himself, they thought that his brain had been damaged.

Even now, he repeats the same phrases over and over – about "the big bang" and "the big light". "My head was hurt," he says, or "My friends are gone". The doctors found nothing physically wrong. "He doesn't hear what you say, he's doesn't really know where he is, he's scared of camera flashes," says Dr Abdur Rahim at the Pakistani hospital where Mujawar was brought. "It's a case of traumatic shock, and no wonder."

Until six days ago, Mujawar was a security guard at the offices of the UN de-mining operation in Kabul. On Monday night, in the first in a series of embarrassments for the war against terrorism, a bomb exploded close by. Four other security guards were killed; Mujawar survived and was driven across the border to Dr Rahim's hospital in Peshawar.

All week, since the bombing began last Sunday night, some 1,000 people every day have made the same journey. A few have had escapes as remarkable as Mujawar's, and many have seen at first hand the devastating effects which the attacks have begun to have on civilians. In hospitals, refugee camps and in the homes of friends, they describe how it feels to find yourself directly below one of the most technologically sophisticated bomb-ing campaigns in history.

The first few days of the bombardment, by general agreement, were a great success. Many Afghans are oppressed and exhausted by five years of Taliban rule, and all the refugees I spoke to supported the general aims of driving them from power and taking out the camps run by Osama bin Laden.

In the city of Jalalabad, just 50 miles from the Pakistani border, local people watched in awe as military landmarks were pulverised, first by cruise missiles and then by bombs. The airport was one of the first targets. Ghulam Gul was in his family home in the hills above the city. The first that they knew of the attacks was when Radio Shariat, the Taliban-controlled broadcaster, suddenly and without explanation, fell silent. "We realised what was happening when we went outside," he said. "We stood on the roof and there we could see the airport, all on fire." The three cruise missiles destroyed the airport's radar dishes and gutted the control tower.

Abdul Mannan, a 23-year old medical student was told by a Taliban radar operator that the incoming cruise missile had been detected on the doomed radar, allowing most of the military personnel to get out before it struck. Having knocked out the Taliban's early warning system, the raids began again with bomber aircraft, which wrecked the runway and struck a place in the hills overlooking Jalalabad called Torrabora, known by all local people as a training camp of the people known in Afghanistan as "the Arabs" – the followers of Osama bin Laden.

Torrabora was bombed on on successive nights. "You could see the fire from far away," said a 19-year old shopkeeper, Atikullah. "It was as if the rocks were burning." Early the next day Ghulam Gul was in the hospital when he saw three "Arabs" being carried in on stretchers with shrapnel wounds in their stomachs.

The camp of the Taliban army's 81st Division was also struck on Tuesday, but it had long been abandoned. "From just after 11 September, the Taliban were moving their heavy equipment up into the hills," said Abdul Mannan. "They were even lifting tanks with helicopters. I think that very few of the Taliban were killed."

It was on Wednesday night that the impressive accuracy of the American targeters began to fail them. An Afghan truck driver named Fazalur Rehman was in Pakistan when the bombings began but travelled back, out of concern for his wife and children. To his relief he learned that they had evacuated to safer parts of the country. He spent Wednesday night in the home of friends on the outskirts of Jalalabad.

"I fell asleep around 10.00," says Mr Rehman. "We heard a big explosion nearby, so we all got up. Then we heard the second plane and suddenly there was this great noise and the ceiling fell in." He came to early the next morning in one of the city's hospitals, with a broken left arm and a damaged right hand, surrounded by people with similar injuries. "They told me that 150 people were killed in my area and 180 injured."

Something went terribly wrong at the end of the week. In conversations with refugees, a string of names come up again and again: Darunta, Karam, Torghar, Farmada – insignificant villages where, according to consistent accounts by eyewitnesses, as well as those of the Taliban propaganda machine, hundreds of civilians were killed.

The refugees say that Osama bin Laden's cohorts did at one time have camps in the devastated villages – but that they moved out long ago. Are the Americans relying on out-of-date intelligence? Or do they know something that local people don't? Either way, it is bringing about a dramatic change of heart among the people who now live in terror of their supposed liberators.

"I saw an old woman on the border," said Mr Mannan. "She was crying, 'Allah destroy the Americans! Why do they attack ordinary people so cruelly?"

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