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RESPONSE TO TERROR | AFTERMATH

A Roadside Graveyard for Taliban Stragglers

November 17, 2001|PAUL WATSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

KAREZ-I-MIR, Afghanistan — On the first day of the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims renew their faith in God, a small group of Taliban fighters came down from the mountains and made a feeble attempt to start a guerrilla war by shooting at passing cars.

They managed only to get themselves killed. Their three corpses lay in the dirt just north of Kabul on Friday, and every bus, taxi, truck and car on the newly opened road suddenly stopped as they came upon the tableaux of defeat. Over the hours, hundreds of people got out of their vehicles and streamed up the hill on the side of the road.

They looked like pilgrims hurrying to visit a holy site. Instead, many of them stopped at each Taliban fighter's body, picked up a rock and hurled it down on the corpse.

One man threw three stones, but he wasn't sated. He looked around for a bigger rock, raised it high above his head with both hands and brought it crashing down on the bloodied body.

One boy walked his bicycle across a fallen soldier's chest.

As the rocks and stones piled up, the Taliban soldiers were slowly buried.

At 3 p.m., time for prayers, an elderly man knelt at the roadside. He had no choice but to bow toward the bodies because that was the direction of Mecca.

The stone-throwers' anger ran deep. Many Afghans see the Taliban as a foreign-created force, filled with large numbers of foreigners. These soldiers were Arabs, they said. But the only proof they could offer was the color of their skin, saying that Afghans' skin is darker.

If the blood hadn't drained from the three men, however, they might have looked much like the people stoning them.

Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban's reclusive leader who is now besieged in the southern city of Kandahar, said this week that his forces would never surrender but would instead take to the mountains and wage a guerrilla war.

Perhaps the three men who ended up on the roadside near this town were meant to be the vanguard of Omar's new war. But on Friday, the bodies here and on another lonely stretch of the road looked more like the remnants of a defeated army.

The bodies of at least nine Taliban soldiers, apparently killed after ambushes on civilian cars, were strewn Friday along the main road into Kabul.

Abdul Sattar, a Northern Alliance commander responsible for securing the area, insisted they were hardly a new wave of Taliban guerrillas but instead were desperate men.

Without food and unable to communicate with local Afghans without giving themselves away as foreign enemies, they have no choice but to fight until they are killed, the 44-year-old commander said.

"These are some Arabs whose links are broken with the Taliban," Sattar said.

"They have launched other terrorist actions that cause such trouble. Not only a passenger on the road, but whoever they find they will kill. Every one of us is their enemy. It is really suicide for them."

It was literally that, Sattar claimed, for five of six Taliban fighters who died on a mountainside about 11:35 a.m. Friday, roughly three miles from where the others were killed after opening fire on passing cars from nearby bunkers.

About 20 of the Northern Alliance soldiers went up the mountainside riding atop an armored personnel carrier and in the back of a truck. About 20 minutes later, people in the crowd straining to see from the roadside thought they saw a small group of Taliban fighters walking down toward the advancing alliance forces in surrender.

"When infantry attacked them, those Arabs started firing," Sattar said. "Then the armored personnel carrier went toward them, and the Arabs jumped onto it. After that, we killed one of them. Then the others knew they'd be arrested . . . and they blew themselves up."

But at such a distance, the only thing clear was the bright flash of an explosion, and the sound of several bursts from a heavy machine gun. The Taliban soldiers were dead.

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