Trauma of Afghan massacre villagers

A bereaved man speaks by telephone to President Karzai to appeal for justice

One day after a US soldier shot dead 16 Afghan civilians, including children, in the remote district of Panjwai in Afghanistan's volatile south, an Afghan journalist - who cannot be named for security reasons - describes the agony and fears of the affected communities.

It did not take long for the Taliban to come visiting, exhorting people in this dusty, rural region of southern Afghanistan to protest and rise up against coalition forces.

This is Kandahar province and it is the spiritual homeland of the Taliban, but elders said that they would not foment unrest.

Start Quote

I told my son: 'You have to be quiet and calm because maybe this is a night raid'”

End Quote Afghan villager Panjwai

All they want is for the man who went from house to house shooting dead those who left their doors unlocked to be brought to justice.

These small farming communities have been left in agony. The funerals for all the dead - including nine children - were held at dusk on Sunday.

"We don't want coalition forces to stay here. We don't want them to come back to village. They have entered our homes and they killed our family members - children and women," Panjwai villager Seed Mohammad told me.

'Collateral damage'

Women were gathered weeping at one home which had lost four family members. Many of the victims and people in the area have said that suspicion of coalition forces has turned to anger.

"This is not the first time something like this has happened," a young man called Salih Mohammad said to me in anger. For many villagers, the actions of the American soldier were part of a larger narrative of night raids and battles between Nato-led troops and the Taliban in which civilians end up being collateral damage.

Rafiullah was shot in the legs, but his pain and anger were reserved for the man who he says "insulted" the women in his home. He claims that the gunman removed some items of clothing from the women after they were shot.

A woman whose son was among those killed said that Afghan President Hamid Karzai could only understand their pain if he were to experience such loss.

"I wish that God would take Karzai's own son from him, because only then will he know about this kind of feeling," she cried out.

Another told me that incidents like this just made people feel like joining the Taliban in an effort to get coalition forces out of the country.

Most villagers expressed scepticism that this was simply the work of a soldier who had lost control. One woman described how she was woken at 02:00 by the sound of helicopters. Others spoke of seeing computerised equipment in the area.

Whatever the true chronology of events, this incident is being seen as yet another black mark in the catalogue of deadly Nato operations.

"I saw one person come to our home, I told my son: 'You have to be quiet and calm because maybe this is a night raid'," said one woman.

An hour after gunfire erupted, she went to her brother's home and saw that corpses from his family had been set ablaze. She screamed for help.

Between Taliban and Nato

Villagers spoke about the plight of living their lives stuck between a Nato base and a Taliban stronghold.

An Afghan man sits in the back of a bus with the body of a person who was allegedly killed by a US service member in Panjwai, Kandahar province south of Kabul, Afghanistan, The exact chronology of events is still unclear

The tiny communities dotted around Balandi, Alokzai, and Najeeban in the Panjwai are caught between a seemingly unending battle between the militant and coalition forces. A mosque used by Taliban fighters lies just kilometres away from this base.

They seemed like typical southern Afghan villages on the face of it - most of them are farmers who tend to the grapes on their dry land. But they appear to get little chance to lead ordinary lives.

They complained of routines hemmed in by rules set by Nato forces. They are frequently confined to their homes after dark and ordered not to venture outside until the morning - even for prayers.

And they were also faced with Taliban militants who would come to the village and accuse them of collaborating with Nato. They lived a life of fear.

"We are like prisoners in our own home," one villager said, speaking of the conditions imposed by coalition forces.

"They are not allowing us to come out at night to go to mosque. If we face problems like illness, we can't go out," the villager complained.

The three tiny communities where the shootings took place lie not far from the long border with Pakistan. The people here are used to living on the doorstep of battle and militancy but many say they have now had enough.

A number of these villagers had returned to their homes having left earlier because of conflict. Their gardens were dry and their homes were empty. Having settled back in, they may now have to leave once more.

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