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US missile killed peasant, says report

February 12, 2002

WASHINGTON, Feb 11: The “tall” man who was killed in a missile strike from an unmanned US aircraft last Monday in Zhawar, eastern Afghanistan, and who some suspected could be Osama bin Laden, was reportedly an ordinary peasant.

The peasant, Mir Ahmad, was searching for scrap metal in the detritus of war in the region along with two companions when the missile struck. All three were killed.

This is claimed in a Washington Post report investigating civilian deaths in the US-led military campaign in Afghanistan. The report is part of a recent effort by the American media to come out of the patriotic fog of war and look at the collateral damage caused by US actions. The New York Times on Sunday had said that, contrary to US official statements, “certainly hundreds and perhaps thousands of innocent Afghans have lost their lives during American attacks, a scattering of bodies extraordinarily difficult to tabulate.”

The media probing can be traced to a Jan 24 raid when 21 people were killed by US commandos. They were presumed to be Taliban and Al Qaeda men till the interim Afghan administration described the incident as a grievous mistake. In a raid in December, a dozen people in a convoy headed for Kabul from Khost for the inauguration of interim leader Hamid Karzai were killed in a similar mistaken-identity hit.

The Post report, which appeared in the paper’s Monday issue, says Zhawar was regularly used as a training base and a transit point for Taliban supporters on their way to and from Pakistan, on the other side of the nearest mountains. “The Americans believe many of those who were at the camp are still in the area. As a result, US forces have continued to bomb the area regularly.”

The Post reporter who went to Zhawar to investigate the incident says he was held at gunpoint by US soldiers and prevented from entering the site. In a separate report, the paper has charged that Afghan villagers misidentified by US military claim they were beaten and kicked by their captors and imprisoned in what they described as a wooden-barred cage at an American base in Kandahar before being released. Four of the 27 rounded up described their experiences in US custody, saying the soldiers were beating them on the head and back and ribs. Two men lost consciousness during the beatings while others suffered fractured ribs, loosened teeth and swollen noses, the paper said.

The civilian deaths are part of the problem the US faces as it tries to identify and destroy remnants of “an enemy that has slipped into the rugged hills of Afghanistan, the paper says. Unreliable intelligence may also to be blamed.

PENTAGON CLAIM: The Pentagon said on Monday it was confident a CIA-fired missile hit its intended target in Afghanistan a week ago, despite reports innocent peasants had been killed, not al Qaeda leaders, adds Reuters.

Defense Department spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said: “Everything we know says it was the target that we expected.”

She said she had difficulty specifying precisely who or what the target had been because it was picked by the CIA.