U.S. strikes stray into civilian areas

Errant missiles reported to have killed 13 in Kabul

Taliban pounded in north

War On Terrorism

October 29, 2001|By Douglas Birch | Douglas Birch,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

KABUL, Afghanistan -- American airstrikes meant to punish the Taliban spilled over yesterday into residential neighborhoods of the Afghan capital, witnesses said, killing at least 13 civilians -- the second time in as many days that missiles have accidentally hit homes and killed residents.

Later yesterday, U.S. jets were back over the skies of the beleaguered Afghan capital, and strong explosions could be heard in the direction of the main road from Kabul to the opposition-controlled Bagram air base.

Weeping families buried their dead hours after the morning bombardment, apparently aimed at Taliban targets to the north and east of Kabul. "I have lost all my family. I am finished," said a sobbing woman in the Qali Hotair neighborhood on Kabul's northern edge.

Of the strikes and civilian casualties, a Pentagon spokesman had no immediate comment. The Pentagon has emphasized repeatedly that civilians are never deliberately targeted.

Despite -- or perhaps because of -- the civilian casualties among Afghans and a growing sense that the air campaign is making little headway, President Bush faced calls yesterday on several fronts to step up the pace of attacks.

"Other issues have to be secondary to the primary goal of eliminating the enemy and doing it with whatever methods are necessary to achieve it," Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, said on the CBS News program, Face the Nation.

In neighboring Pakistan, where the government has had to work to keep a lid on pro-Taliban unrest, there was growing concern over civilian casualties.

"We feel the military action should possibly be short and targeted in order to avoid civilian casualties," Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, said after meeting German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

But Britain's foreign secretary, Jack Straw, told the British Broadcasting Corp. that the war could drag on "indefinitely" and that the coalition was considering a pause during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which begins the middle of next month.

When asked about a pause in bombing for Ramadan, Pentagon spokesman Jim Turner pointed to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's comment earlier in the day that "the Northern Alliance and the Taliban fought through Ramadan year after year."

"There was a Middle East war during Ramadan. There is nothing in that religion that suggests that conflicts have to stop during Ramadan," Rumsfeld said on CNN's Late Edition.

Richard C. Holbrooke, a former ambassador to the United Nations, said one of the lessons of the Kosovo war in 1999 was that because any level of airstrikes brings negative political consequences, nothing is gained by holding back.

On the domestic terror front, Bush's chief of staff suggested yesterday that the president would sign a Senate-passed airline security bill even though he disagrees with a provision to make all airport baggage handlers federal employees.

"I suspect he wouldn't want to have to sign it, but he would. He wants airline security," Andrew Card said on NBC's Meet the Press.

In yesterday morning's airstrikes, witnesses said 10 people were killed in the Qali Hotair neighborhood. An Associated Press reporter saw six bodies, four of them children.

A wailing father hugged the body of his son, who looked barely 2. Bereaved women slapped themselves with grief. Three other people died near an eastern housing complex called Macroyan, eyewitnesses said.

The strikes that hit Kabul occurred only 12 hours after stray bombs landed Saturday evening behind the rebel military alliance's battle lines north of the capital. Areas behind Taliban lines were also reported hit.

A U.S. warplane hit the opposition-controlled village of Ghanikhail on Saturday, killing two people and wounding 11, during the most intense day of bombing of the Taliban front lines north of Kabul.

Abdullah Abdullah, the opposition foreign minister, called the attack on Ghanikhail "a tragic mistake" that might have been avoided by "better coordination" between the alliance and the American military.

But Abdullah also praised the escalation of the bombing Saturday, saying it had destroyed three tanks, as well as numerous Taliban positions and military vehicles.

Wire services contributed to this article.

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