Skip to comments.Afghans wary of return to scene of Cdn offensive op
Posted on 09/15/2006 8:07:12 PM PDT by Clive
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (CP) - Bibi Sagima took a humiliating seat on a busy downtown street Friday, putting out her hand to beg for food with her eight-year-old son while clinging to faded hopes that her husband is still alive.
Sagima and her boy, Ghami, are two of the thousands of refugees who poured from the Panjwaii district after the Canadian army led an offensive there to root out Taliban insurgents.
Local officials estimate some 1,500 families left Panjwaii and surrounding areas to avoid fighting and intense bombardment by Canadian and NATO forces backing the assault.
Sagima took refuge with a local family, but now the family wants her out and she ran out of money days ago.
"My son is hungry and I'm dying of shame," said Sagima, dressed in a filthy blue burka covering her from head to toe.
"It's the first time in my life I've had to do this. I have no idea how you do it, exactly. I'm mortified, but what can I do?"
Sagima's husband Ghami Daoud, a bicycle repairman in the Panjwaii district centre, disappeared on the third day of fighting. She denies he had any Taliban links. But insurgents have been known to press locals to take up arms in battle.
Twenty NATO soldiers died during the operation, including five Canadians. Sixteen of the soldiers died in accidents. Local officials say 14 civilians died and NATO says more than 500 Taliban fighters were killed. A purported spokesman for the Taliban in southern Afghanistan claims hundreds did die, but many of the dead were civilian men mistaken for fighters.
"I agree that two or three hundred people have been killed there, but they are all civilians," said Qari Yousaf Ahmadi in an interview with a Canadian Press translator.
Most civilians from Panjwaii are still waiting to hear the all clear before heading to what's left of their homes.
In village after village, family compounds were pocked by shells or flattened by bombs. Huts for drying grapes, an agricultural staple of the local economy, along with opium, were destroyed by Canadian and NATO bombs and shells.
A school with a fresh coat of yellow paint was flattened by bombs after it was identified as an insurgent position. Sensitive to the image of Canadians bombing a school, officers ordered soldiers to stop calling it "Yellow School," switching instead to "Yellow Building" or Yellow Bunker."
Soldiers blew holes through walls and tossed grenades into rooms and vital water wells as they went house-to-house searching for arms and insurgents. They found a few rockets and some documents but little else.
Fields were strewn with human waste and blowing garbage from the advancing soldiers.
Haji Abdul Rahim, 55, a farmer, fled the area three days into the war. He sent his son back to check on their property a few days ago. He says their two cows and flock of a dozen sheep are dead and their house is rubble. Afghan police have looted whatever was left, he says.
"Many of our fields are destroyed," Rahim said. "We want security back in our village, but is this security? We might end up back in Pakistan. Refugees again. Canadians, our government, someone must restore our losses."
To avoid roadside bombs, the Canadian army used two bulldozers to plow new roads through irrigation canals and carefully tended vineyards. They also cleared parking lots for armoured vehicles.
The dirt trails were often used for a few hours while a road could be cleared of any bomb and mine threat.
"We bulldoze through the vineyards for our own safety," Maj. Geoff Abthorpe, the company commander of advancing Canadian troops, said at the time.
"Their crop has already been harvested. Ultimately, the farmers will restore this simple road to a vineyard."
NATO has promised reconstruction would follow closely behind the advancing army. Canada has pledged $500,000 but construction efforts require time and co-ordination with the local and Afghan governments.
Officers from Canada's Provincial Reconstruction Team arrived last week to assess need and hand out relief supplies at camps for displaced people.
PRT head Lt.-Col. Simon Heatherington said projects will follow.
"It can be anything from battle damage repair, schools that have been destroyed, irrigation systems blocked with dirt, we will follow the government's priorities," Heatherington said.
"We have the capacity right here, right now, to hire 50 guys to clear these canals out.
Question: Is that body a male? Yes.
Question: Does it appear to be an adult male? Yes.
Question: And the body is in a combat area? Yes.
Conclusion: Dead fighter.
(I do not need to understand their politics, only that they wish to kill me.)
Qari Yousaf Ahmadi is a liar.
After they get the cash, these people will be asking the Taliban and Canadians back every year to fight it out. Nothing else there but dirt, rocks, grapes and dope.
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