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Eyewitness Report: Nights of Death in Kandahar

Nights Of Death In Kandahar
There Will Be A Dawn After This Darkness
By Suleman Ahmer

It was deafening. The walls shook and I heard glass shatter. Jolted out of bed, I held my breadth. The first thought was whether our building was hit. There was a hiss as if of a low flying plane and then the second explosion shook the walls.

People were crowding the window, looking eastward. I joined them. The carpet-bombing of Kul-e-Urdu, the military cantonment of Kandahar, had started. Sometimes the explosions were continuous as if a machine gun was going off. These were the clusters bombs. And then there were the huge explosions of the 1000 pounds bunker busters that shook the entire city. The first were the cruise missiles sent in to mark the site for the bombers flying overhead.

It was the night of October 15 and the heaviest bombing so far. Starting around 10:30 PM, it was extremely intense for the first 45 minutes and then went on till the morning as other targets around the city were also bombed.

As I went back and lied down, I thought of the little children in Kandahar: how terrified they would be through these nights, not understanding why it was all happening.

In the morning, clouds of dust covered the center of the city. The cantonment was decimated. There were no injured or shaheed. The Taliban had vacated the area days before, taking with them all weapons and armaments. All that was being bombed were deserted clay huts and some buildings.

I had arrived a day earlier with a couple brothers from Pakistan. We had two trucks of food and medicine, 26 tons in all. For the past 5 months we have been running the Gynecology Ward of the hospital in Kandahar in conjunction with Asian Islamic Trust, a local relief agency.

Initially military targets were being hit: The airport, the Taliban cantonment areas in and out of the city, Mullah Omar's compound. The panic of the first day had slowly ebbed. Shops were being opened and the people started getting a little used to the noise in the night. Each day, high above in the clear blue skies, American planes circle continually.

Taliban have practically stopped using the anti-aircraft batteries as the planes fly high, wandering unchallenged marking their targets and assessing the damage that they had done earlier.

Things started to change: on the 16th a truck carrying cooking oil broke down on a road leading to villages Northwest of Kandahar. The driver came to the town to get help. In the night three men slept in the truck little knowing what were to happen.

The planes circling in the day had marked the truck. Around 4:00 AM it was hit by a cruise missile. The bodies were brought to the hospital. They were in pieces. It was a civilian target.

Madad chowk is the busiest intersection in Kandahar. On one side lies the building of the Ministry of Amr bil Maroof (Enjoining of good). There are shops selling furniture, a Public Call Office and the post office. On the other side is a masjid, car repair shops and shops selling spare parts.

On October 17th it was bombed. Apparently, the Ministry of Amr bil Maroof was targeted. But the timing was murderous: 4:30 PM is one of the busiest time of the day. Planes fired rockets after rockets which hit the Ministry building and the shops next to it. Pedestrians were killed. One rocket fell on a house adjacent to the masjid killing 2 women and children. The rooftops of three homes collapsed. Up to 17 people were killed.

The message had been clearly conveyed: civilians will now be targeted. Panic spread and the mass movement of civilians started from Kandahar, distressed families packing up whatever they can and heading off in all directions, mostly towards the rural areas to their relatives.

As I left Kandahar a week later, the bombings were continuing day and night and the list of civilian targets was growing and most of them were not accidental hits: a tractor trolley carrying a family on the Kandahar-Herat road, an oil tanker in Kandahar near our hospital, two villages near Kandahar...

The civilian targets were intensified particularly after the American Commandos were beaten back by a handful of Taliban men on the night of October 19th.

As opposed to the civilian casualties, the military casualties are very low. The Taliban have disappeared into the mountains along with their weapons. Almost all of the military targets hit were empty.

As I left Kandahar, around 70 % of the population of the city was on the move leaving behind a town in which they had seen six years of peace. Electricity had been restored, businesses were thriving, roads were being built and essential services were being improved like hospitals and Schools. In the past six months that I had been going in and out of Kandahar, I was amazed at the rate of progress.

The road between Kandahar and Chaman in Pakistan, devastated by two decades of war, was being built. Coasters and vans taking children to school were becoming common sight. Last summer, the trucks that took dry fruit to Pakistan would come back loaded with Mangoes. The people had almost forgotten the ravages of war.

Almost!

-Suleman Ahmer

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