Warlord's jets strike at Kabul

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The Independent Online
The body of the teenage girl lay in the centre of the room. Her mother, her face covered by a white mourning veil, sat on the floor beside the dead girl. Stretching her arms towards the sky, she screamed "Why? why?"

Outside in the mud-walled courtyard men washed the body of her six-year- old son, Assad. They worked in silence, pouring water from a teapot over the boy's naked frame, gently wiping the dust from his tiny, lifeless legs and feet.

An hour before, the two children had been eating breakfast with their father, a doctor, and a nine-year-old brother. They heard the low roar of jets overhead but continued eating their bread and drinking tea.

Then the house was hit by a 500lb bomb, which killed Malina, 16, and Assad. Their father and brother were injured. A neighbour's house was hit by another bomb which killed his seven-year-old son, Matine.

Neighbours and relatives stood in the destroyed courtyard staring at the damage. The boy's uncle sobbed; the other men were angry. For the past month \ had been quiet and they hoped peace had finally come to Afghanistan after 18 years of war, but it seems the lull was only temporary.

The three children were the first civilian fatalities in \ since the Taliban Islamic army took over the city in late September. They were killed by bombs which were dropped from jets belonging to Abdul Rashid Dostum, the powerful Uzbek warlord who controls the northern provinces of Afghanistan.

He has formed an alliance with Ahmed Shah Massoud, the former defence minister who controls the former government's forces, to try to oust the Taliban from \. For the past four nights General Dostum's jets have flown over the city before bombing the airport. Yesterday morning they dropped five bombs, two of which fell on houses in the north-west of the city, and two on farmland near the airport. Only one hit it.

The raids are part of a big offensive against the Taliban launched by General Dostum and Mr Massoud three days ago. The battle for control of Afghanistan is now being fought on two fronts. The alliance forces, headed by General Dostum and Mr Massoud, are fighting the Taliban for control of a strategic pass in the foothills of the Hindu Kush 20 miles north of \. General Dostum is also moving a large number of his troops towards the western capital of Herat, controlled by the Taliban since last year.

Diplomats believe he and Mr Massoud are maintaining their offensive in \ to keep the Taliban occupied while they go for the greater prize. Herat, the ancient cultural centre of Afghanistan, is thought to be the alliance's new target.

The people of Herat are ethnic Tajiks, who have no natural allegiance with the Taliban, who are southerners. They do not speak the same language as their new rulers and have been alienated by the strict Islamic dogma they imposed upon the city.

Herat is commercially important as it lies on a key route for trade between Iran and Pakistan and for a proposed oil pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan. If General Dostum's alliance takes Herat it could also threaten Kandahar, the southern city where the Taliban has its headquarters.

General Dostum's move follows a Taliban attempt to seize Badghis, a province north of Herat which he controls.

The Islamic fundamentalist army may have finally met its match in General Dostum. He runs the north as his fiefdom and receives financial and military backing from neighbouring Uzbekistan. He is unlikely to give up any of his territory easily. Few expect the fighting to be over quickly.