THOUSANDS OF AFGHANS LIKELY KILLED IN BOMBINGS


By MURRAY CAMPBELL



THE GLOBE AND MAIL (Page A1)

Thursday, January 3, 2002



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The Afghan village of Qalaye Niazi vanished in a rain of bombs, with

only craters, remnants of mud walls and scraps of flesh and hair to

show that it once existed.



The people who used to live there say as many as 107 civilians died

when U.S. warplanes, including a B-52 bomber, swooped down early

Sunday.



The Pentagon says the village in eastern Afghanistan was a haven for

al-Qaeda and Taliban loyalists and that, in any event, the estimate of

casualties is "unfounded."



Such conflicting information has been a staple of the three-month-old

Afghan war and, critics say, has served to obscure the toll exacted

from civilians.



There is no agreement yet about how many ordinary Afghans have died

from the U.S.-led bombardment, but one American academic estimates that

the toll stands at 4,050 -- surpassing the number of people killed in

the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

The Pentagon has played down the number of civilian dead, dismissing

many early reports as Taliban exaggerations.



The bombing campaign is controversial in Afghanistan, with some members

of the interim government suggesting it be stopped. Washington has

refuses, and Afghan leader Hamid Karzai said this week the bombing must

continue, to "finish terrorists completely."



The bombing campaign remains largely uncontroversial in the United

States, where President George W. Bush's war on terrorism enjoys strong

support.



Marc Herold, a University of New Hampshire economics professor who has

monitored the campaign, said yesterday that U.S. officials again have

demonstrated their ability to manage the news and mainstream U.S. media

have shown their willingness to be managed.



"It's been a concerted effort to keep this kind of news off the front

pages," he said. "The record of the Bush administration is pretty

clear: This is a non-topic."



Prof. Herold has gathered media reports (many of them unverified) from

around the world for his estimate that 4,050 Afghan civilians have been

killed in the bombing. Other organizations, whose monitoring has been

less rigorous, offer lower figures.



Human Rights Watch, a U.S.-based organization, offers an estimate of at

least 1,000 civilian deaths, while the Reuters news agency said that

perhaps 982 people have died in 14 incidents.



Prof. Herold's estimate, updated to include Qalaye Niazi and four other

recent incidents, follows his initial calculation three weeks ago that

3,767 Afghan civilians had died since the first bombs fell on Oct. 7.



He said he decided to study the effects of the bombing because he

suspects that modern weaponry is not as precise as advertised, and

because he found hardly any mention of civilian casualties in the U.S.

media.



He noted there have been news reports that Washington was spending

millions of dollars to buy exclusive rights to accurate satellite

images of the areas under bombardment. "Preventing the images of human

suffering caused by the U.S. bombing from reaching U.S. audiences

creates precisely what the Pentagon and Bush seek -- a war without

witnesses."



Sidney Jones, Human Rights Watch's Asia director, suggests there are

several reasons for the muted reaction to the Afghan civilian toll.



She said other Afghan topics -- the rebuilding of the country and the

hunt for Osama bin Laden -- crowd the news agenda.






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