The son of Mullah Mohammed Omar, the leader of the Taliban, has been killed by an American air strike.
An Afghan doctor said yesterday that he had struggled in vain to save the life of the boy, aged 10, after the child was injured during the first night of strikes on the southern city of Kandahar.
Dr Abdul Bari said he had treated the boy for abdominal injuries and a broken femur in a hospital in Kandahar and that Mullah Omar had stood by, pleading with the doctor to save his son’s life.
Dr Bari was interviewed by the BBC at a border crossing near Quetta in Pakistan. He did not give the boy’s name, but said his injuries were too severe to survive. The child died the same night he was admitted to the hospital.
Mullah Omar’s uncle was injured in the same attack, Dr Bari said, and was still being treated in hospital in Kandahar. Dr Bari said the hospital had only five days’ supply of drugs left to dispense.
Other reports said many of the city’s 500,000 inhabitants had fled, leaving only the very poor behind. Kandahar has always been considered the main power base of the Taliban.
Little is known about the 41-year-old Taliban leader and even less about the number of wives and children he has. He is reported to have married Osama bin Laden’s eldest daughter, while Mr bin Laden is reported to have taken one of Mullah Omar’s daughters as his fourth wife, although the Taliban have denied this.
Some reports have said Mullah Omar has only one son, so it is conceivable that the boy killed in Kandahar was a grandchild of Mr bin Laden.
American officials have admitted they are attacking places where the Taliban leader is known to live, under the supposition that they are military command centres.
The boy’s death is just one indication of the mounting civilian death toll from the strikes.
As the third week of attacks began yesterday, Taliban officials said 18 people had been killed in the morning raids over the capital, including eight members of a single family at breakfast time. The Taliban say up to 900 have been killed in attacks since the campaign began on October 7.
There has been no verification of the Taliban claim. Reporters in northern Kabul yesterday saw the bodies of three women and four children killed by bombs.
“There were no military bases here, only innocent people,” said Bacha Gul, the brother of one of those who died. “We don’t care about military targets. If they want to hit military targets let them, but these were not terrorists.”
Taliban execute five of their own soldiers accused of being spies
The Taliban have executed five of their own men as American spies, two of them local military commanders, in a sign of their determination to keep control of the key northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif, they said yesterday.
The executions may be a sign of a growing panic in the ranks of the Taliban about defections from their army and the possibility of the strategic city falling to the anti-Taliban forces of the Northern Alliance.
If the Taliban lose Mazar-i-Sharif, their whole position in the north, where their rule is already unpopular, might crumble, opening the way for an opposition offensive against the capital, Kabul.
The battle for the city is also a test of the military strength of the Afghan opposition, which claims that it can defeat the Taliban on the ground if it receives wholehearted American air support.
A Taliban official confirmed the executions of the alleged spies. “Two commanders by the names of Saboor and Yusuf and three of their men were executed for acts of sabotage, provoking people and spying for the Americans,” he said.
The Taliban recently rushed an extra 1,000 men into the city, which they only captured in 1998, to quell an uprising against the government.
Meanwhile, America stepped up air activity yesterday afternoon around the north of Kabul. The sound of jets passing overhead reverberated around the mountains near Jabal Saraj. They were reported to have dropped several bombs near the former Soviet military airport at Bagram.
But this was not the massive air assault on the front line which opposition commanders wanted.
There are signs, however, that America may be increasing its military aid to Abdul Rashid Dostum, one of three opposition generals trying to surround Mazar-i-Sharif.
An official working for Ustad Attah, another anti-Taliban general, said: “There are over 15 Americans here and they are collecting information about Taliban targets in order to hit them during air attacks.” He claimed 500 men, including 10 commanders, had recently switched from the Taliban to the Northern Alliance.
Few details of the fighting in Mazar-i-Sharif can be independently checked and the Taliban education minister, Mullah Amir Khan Muttaqi, indignantly insisted yesterday that they were holding their own. “We have pushed back the opposition attacks,” he said. “We will never bow before America.”
In areas held by the opposition, north of Kabul, the fighters voiced scepticism about the effectiveness of raids by the US special forces along the lines of the weekend raids around Kandahar. A commander named Mohammed Arif, said yesterday: “It is impossible for it to be effective. Afghanistan is too mountainous. Local forces know the terrain work better.”
The Northern Alliance have their own reasons for downplaying the use of American or British special forces. But they are right in suggesting that the Taliban forces will be difficult to uproot without the help of local troops. “The Taliban can easily fight in people’s houses and villages. They will be very difficult to find,” Mohammed Arif said.
The Northern Alliance forces consist of about 12,000 to 15,000 well-trained assault troops and a much more numerous village militia. They have been bitterly disappointed by America’s reluctance to support them openly, in case this offends neighbouring Pakistan.
The Alliance represents mostly ethnic minority interests in the north and its leaders ran a chaotic and violent administration when they ruled Kabul five years ago. The US airforce has only given them effective aid around Mazar-i-Sharif.