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After The Airstrikes...Just Silence

by C/O Diogenes Thursday, May. 01, 2003 at 2:53 AM

There are no official estimates of how many Afghan civilians have been killed by U.S. bombs. A survey published last year by the human rights group Global Exchange estimated the number at more than 800.

After The Airstrikes...Just Silence


MADOO, Afghanistan (WP) -- There are more graves than houses in Madoo. The mosque and many of the roughly 35 homes that once made up this hamlet in the White Mountains of eastern Afghanistan lie in rubble. At least 55 men, women and children -- or pieces of them -- are buried here, their graves marked by flags that are whipped by the wind.


Seventeen months after U.S. warplanes bombed this village and others in the vicinity of Osama bin Laden´s cave complex at Tora Bora, Madoo´s survivors say they can tell civilian victims of U.S. bombing in Iraq what to expect in the way of help from Washington: nothing.


"Our houses were destroyed," said Niaz Mohammad Khan, 30. "We want to rebuild, but we don´t have the money. . . . We need water for our land. We need everything. People come and ask us questions, then go away. No one has helped."


Madoo is one of several enclaves in the region that the U.S. military bombed over several days in December 2001, killing an estimated 150 civilians. Once home to 300 people, Madoo has lost roughly half its population, villagers say. In addition to the dozens killed by U.S. airstrikes, many others lost their homes and moved away. The people who remain are destitute. They live crowded in the few stone and timber homes they´ve managed to rebuild on their own. They subsist on bread and the vegetables they grow. Several children look slight and frail.


Half a world away in Washington, finding ways to help people in such desperate need became an immediate priority for some policy makers and a dangerous precedent to others.


Congress directed that an unspecified amount of money be spent to assist innocent victims of U.S. bombing in Afghanistan, just as it recently called on the Bush administration to identify and provide "appropriate assistance" to civilian victims in Iraq. But the money has not yet reached any of the intended recipients, U.S. officials acknowledged.


"The money is there," said Tim Rieser, an aide to Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.). "Mistakes were made. Mistakes are made in wars. We all know that. But we have yet to see the administration take action to carry out the law in Afghanistan."


The U.S. Agency for International Development, for example, had .25 million in last year´s budget to help Afghan civilians who suffered losses as a result of U.S. military action, according to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. But the agency has not spent any of that money helping Afghans who had their relatives killed, their children maimed, their homes leveled or their livestock and livelihoods destroyed by American bombing, several U.S. officials in Afghanistan conceded this week.


The biggest obstacle to delivery of the aid, officials say, has been a prolonged debate over how to assist bombing victims without compensating them. To policymakers, the distinction between easing the plight of suffering innocents and compensating the victims of war is more than semantic. Both the U.S. military and the State Department are leery of setting legal precedents for compensation and have declined to establish programs that either systematically document civilian losses or give Afghans any opportunity to apply for reparations.


Short of that, military civil-affairs units in Afghanistan have, in isolated instances, provided general humanitarian assistance to communities that happen to have suffered as a result of U.S. bombing. They are, for example, helping rebuild Bamian University -- but only, officials insist, because Bamian needs a new university, not because U.S. bombs destroyed the old one.


"Claims have never been processed for combat losses," said Col. Roger King, U.S. military spokesman at Bagram air base near Kabul, the Afghan capital.


The policy debate has gone on too long, Rieser said. "It´s tricky," he said. "We don´t imagine going around handing out dollar bills to people. We are sensitive to the issues. If we were to announce some kind of a claims program, every single person in Afghanistan would sign up. It´s just not feasible.


"But we do know about a lot of these bombing incidents. We know there is a real need there. Why not start doing something about it in the context of our overall aid program? All Congress is saying is, don´t leave out the people who suffered serious losses on account of our mistakes. It should have happened already."


There are no official estimates of how many Afghan civilians have been killed by U.S. bombs. A survey published last year by the human rights group Global Exchange estimated the number at more than 800.


A year and a half after the U.S.-led coalition ousted the Taliban and al Qaeda, bombs are still falling on Afghan civilians as U.S. forces combat a resurgence of terrorism aimed at destabilizing the government of President Hamid Karzai. In eastern Afghanistan this month, a U.S. warplane mistakenly killed 11 members of one family when a 1,000-pound laser-guided bomb missed its intended target and landed on a house.


And Madoo still lies in ruins.


The village, 25 miles south of Jalalabad, is not accessible by road. It is a short but arduous hike through mountain gorges from the Pakistan border. On the horizon jut the black peaks of Tora Bora, home of the cave complex where an estimated 1,000 of bin Laden´s fighters are believed to have gathered after the defeat of the Taliban last fall.


It was late afternoon on Dec. 1, 2001, when U.S. warplanes appeared over Madoo. The people of Madoo were observing Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting.


"It was the time of breaking fast, and we were just sitting together to have dinner," Munir, 12, recalled. "We heard the voice of the planes, and we went outside to see what was happening. A bomb landed on our home. There weren´t any Taliban or Arabs with us. For nothing they dropped bombs here."


After the first bombers left, Munir´s mother and 8-year-old sister were dead. His infant brother, Abdul Haq, was buried alive. Relatives spied the boy´s foot sticking out of a mound of dirt and dug him out.


The bombers returned three times, villagers said. In all, the people of Madoo say they buried at least 55 loved ones.


Many bodies were too damaged to identify. Some of the dozens of mounds in Madoo´s hillside burial ground are marked with two and three pieces of wood, signifying that the remains of more than one person are interred there.


The people of Madoo remain puzzled by Americans. A retired Ohio lawyer, who read about one Madoo boy injured in the bombings, was so moved that he visited and gave each survivor about 0. People bought tents and clothes and wheat seeds to plant. But Madoo´s losses outstripped one man´s largess.


Munir´s youngest brother, now a toddler, coughs frequently and swipes at his runny nose. His family, whose home and meager possessions were destroyed in the bombing, lives with relatives.


"Before, it was good here," Munir said. "The people and my father worked on the land. Life was better than it is now. We have lost everything."


Munir´s father, Shingul, 55, who is raising his four surviving children alone, tried to talk about his late wife and daughter but could only turn away and weep.


"If we were doing something wrong, I could understand this," he said when he regained his voice. "But it was Ramadan and we were breaking the fast. The main problem we have now is that we have nothing. We would really appreciate it if someone could help."

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