[Reader-list] The village where nothing happened (The Independent)

Ravi Sundaram ravis at sarai.net
Tue Dec 4 18:33:00 IST 2001

A village is destroyed. And America says nothing happened

War on terrorism

Richard Lloyd Parry in Kama Ado, Afghanistan

04 December 2001
The village where nothing happened is reached by a steep climb at the end 
of a rattling three-hour drive along a stony road. Until nothing happened 
here, early on the morning of Saturday and again the following day, it was 
a large village with a small graveyard, but now that has been reversed. The 
cemetery on the hill contains 40 freshly dug graves, unmarked and 
identical. And the village of Kama Ado has ceased to exist.
Many of the homes here are just deep conical craters in the earth. The rest 
are cracked open, split like crushed cardboard boxes. At the moment when 
nothing happened, the villagers of Kama Ado were taking their early morning 
meal, before sunrise and the beginning of the Ramadan fast. And there in 
the rubble, dented and ripped, are tokens of the simple daily lives they led.

A contorted tin kettle, turned almost inside out by the blast; a collection 
of charred cooking pots; and the fragments of an old-fashioned 
pedal-operated sewing machine. A split metal chest contains scraps of 
children's clothes in cheap bright nylon.

In another room are the only riches that these people had, six dead cows 
lying higgledy-piggledy and distended by decay. And all this is very 
strange because, on Saturday morning – when American B-52s unloaded dozen 
of bombs that killed 115 men, women and children – nothing happened.

We know this because the US Department of Defence told us so. That evening, 
a Pentagon spokesman, questioned about reports of civilian casualties in 
eastern Afghanistan, explained that they were not true, because the US is 
meticulous in selecting only military targets associated with Osama bin 
Laden's al-Qa'ida network. Subsequent Pentagon utterances on the subject 
have wobbled somewhat, but there has been no retraction of that initial 
decisive statement: "It just didn't happen."

So God knows what kind of a magic looking-glass I stepped through 
yesterday, as I travelled out of the city of Jalalabad along the desert 
road to Kama Ado. From the moment I woke up, I was confronted with the 
wreckage and innocent victims of high-altitude, hi-tech, thousand-pound 

The day began at the home of Haji Zaman Gamsharik, the pro-Western 
anti-Taliban mujahedin commander who is being discreetly supplied and 
funded by the US government. The previous day I had followed him around 
Jalalabad's mortuary, where seven mutilated corpses were being laid out – 
mujahedin soldiers of Commander Zaman who had been killed when US bombs hit 
the government office in which they were sleeping. And now, it had happened 

There they were in the back of three pick-up trucks – seven more bloody 
bodies of seven more mujahedin, killed when the guesthouse in which they 
were sleeping in the village of Landi Khiel was hit by bombs at 6.30am 
yesterday morning.

Commander Zaman is a proud, haughty man who fought in the mountains for 
years against the Soviet Union, but I've never seen him look so vulnerable. 
"I sent them there myself yesterday,'' was all he could say. "I sent them 
for security.''

But the commander provided us with mujahedin escorts of our own, and we set 
off down the road to Landi Khiel. We found the ruins of the office where 
the first lot of soldiers had died, and the guesthouse where they perished 
the previous morning. And there, in the ruins of a family house, was a 
small fragment of nothing. It was the tail-end of a compact bomb. It bore 
the words "Surface Attack Guided Missile AGM 114", and a serial number: 
232687. It was half-buried in the remains of the straw roof of a house 
where three men had died: Fazil Karim, his brother Mahmor Ghulab, and his 
nephew Hasiz Ullah. "They were a family, just ordinary people," said Haji 
Mohammed Nazir, the local elder who was accompanying us. "They were not 
terrorists – the terrorists are in the mountains, over there.''

So we drove on in the direction of the White Mountains, where hundreds of 
al-Qa'ida members, and perhaps even Osama bin Laden himself, are hiding in 
the Tora Bora cave complex. A B-52 was high in the sky; a billow of black 
smoke was visible, blooming out of the valley. Something, surely, was 
happening over there. And then we reached the ruins of Kama Ado. Among the 
pathetic remains I found only one sinister object ­ an old leather gun 
holster with an ammunition belt. It is conceivable that a handful of 
al-Qa'ida members had been spending the night there, and that US targeters 
learnt of their presence.

But after 22 years of war, almost every Afghan home contains some military 
relic, and the villagers swore they hadn't seen Arab or Taliban fighters 
for a fortnight. Certainly there could not have been enough terrorists to 
fill the 40 fresh graves. One person told me a few holes contained not 
intact people, but simply body parts.

We had been warned that white faces would meet an angry reception in the 
village where nothing happened, but I encountered despair and bafflement. I 
had only one moment of real fear, when an American B-52 flew overhead. We 
halted our convoy, clambered out of the cars and trotted into the fields on 
either side. The plane did a slow circle; I was conscious of electronic 
eyes looking down on us, the only traffic on the road. Then, to everyone's 
relief, the bomber veered away.

Before we left the city, an American colleague in Jalalabad telephoned the 
Pentagon and informed them of our plans to travel to the village where 
nothing happened. I can't help wondering, in these looking-glass times, 
what that B-52 would have done to our convoy if that telephone call had not 
been made. Perhaps nothing would have happened to me too

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