Taliban Claim Village Hit by U.S. Strike

The first foreign journalists permitted into Agfhanistan to view the effects of a week of American bombing were regarded with suspicion and fear by villagers Sunday.

"They are coming to kill us! They are coming for information, to tell the planes where to bomb!" angry and terrified villagers shouted as they charged the reporters with shovels and sticks. 

Taliban escorts held them back.

The Taliban-arranged tour of the village of Karam in Afghanistan's eastern mountains was the first time since the U.S.-led air campaign began Oct. 7 that the Islamic group has allowed international journalists into areas it controls.

They claim nearly 200 civilians were killed here Thursday. If true, it would be the deadliest known single strike by U.S. and British warplanes.

Washington has expressed regret for any civilian victims in the strikes, which were launched to force the Taliban to hand over bin Laden, chief suspect in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. About 5,600 people were believed to have died.

The Taliban insist there are no military bases near Karam. However, it is believed that bin Laden operated terrorist training camps here in Nangarhar province.

It was unclear whether any of the camps are in the Karam area or whether they were the intended targets of the attack.

It was difficult to assess claims of casualty figures three days after the attack. Muslims traditionally bury their dead quickly.

"They are innocent people living here," villager Gul Mohammed, said. "There is no military base. What is it they are looking for in Afghanistan? Where is Usama bin Laden? He is not here. Why did they bomb us?"

At least 18 fresh graves were scattered about the village, marked with jagged pieces of gray slate. Villagers pointed out other evidence of an attack — a bloodstained pillowcase by a house, bomb craters and what appeared to be a rotting human limb. Dozens of sheep and goat carcasses were strewn about the mud-hut village, and the air was thick with a rancid stench. Villagers said more bodies were buried up in the mountains, taken there by residents as they fled the now mostly deserted community.

Two graves were tiny — freshly dug for what residents said were children.

An old man knelt by one grave, sobbing. He looked up, furiously, at journalists and their cameras and lobbed stones to drive the outsiders away. .

One man remained by the ruins of his former home, its roof gone. He clutched a scrap of metal bearing the words "fin-guided missile" in English.

The man, who uses only one name, Toray, said he lost his five children and his wife when the warplanes came.

"I was asleep down there in the morning, when they bombed," he said, gesturing toward the base of the mountain. "What do I have left? Nothing."