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U.S. Bombs Strike 3 Villages And Kill hundreds

JALALABAD, Afghanistan, Dec. 1 Witnesses and local officials said today that American bombers flying over Tora Bora, the cave complex where Osama bin Laden may be hiding, struck three nearby villages, killing dozens of civilians. But a high- ranking Pentagon official said the bombers had attacked sites 20 miles away and had only hit their targets.

Two Afghan officials gave death tolls that added up to 70, and each said the toll was likely to climb.

Hazarat Ali, the law and order minister for the self-proclaimed government here, called the Eastern Shura, said the bombing might have resulted from misinformation that local Afghans supplied to American officers. He said that 45 people had died in the village of Balut and 5 in Akal Khan, both a few miles from Tora Bora. Hajji Muhammad Zaman, the region's defense minister, said that 20 more had died in a third village, Gudara.

"We've talked to the authorities" in the United States, Hajji Zaman said. "We told them, `Your bombing is not to the mark. There are civilians there. Stop bombing that area.' "

In Tampa, Fla., Rear Adm. Craig R. Quigley, chief spokesman for the Central Command, said that American bombs had hit their intended target 20 miles away.

"If we had hit a village causing widespread death that was unintended, we would have said so," said Admiral Quigley. "We have been meticulous reporting whenever we have killed a single person."

He added that "there was no chance the village was targeted improperly."

One survivor from Gudara said 38 of her relatives had been killed there. A second survivor said he feared 200 were dead.

The second survivor gave his name as Khalil, his age as 25 and his neighborhood as Kama Ado, a southern section of Gudara. He was admitted to a hospital in Jalalabad today, suffering multiple fractures, said his attending physician, Dr. Faridullah, 26. Both men use only one name.

Fellow villagers brought Mr. Khalil to the hospital from Gudara, along with a 12-year-old boy named Noor Muhammad and a 10-year-old boy named Iqbaluddin, Dr. Faridullah said. Noor was blinded, his right arm and left hand blown off. Iqbaluddin was suffering blast trauma, including a collapsed lung, the doctor said.

Iqbaluddin's grandmother, Spina, said 38 of her relatives had been killed in the bombing.

"The village is no more," Mr. Khalil said through a translator. "All my family, 12 people, were killed. I am the only one left in this family. I have lost my children, my wife. They are no more." He began to weep.

"I think more than 200 people were killed," he said.

Mr. Khalil said that all 20 to 25 homes in his neighborhood were destroyed. A rural Afghan village usually houses an extended family. Villagers said about 4,000 people live in Gudara, which lies two or three miles from the summits of Tora Bora. Lalgul, a 45-year-old farmer from Gudara who rescued Mr. Khalil, said in Jalalabad tonight that Kama Ado and its roughly two dozen homes had been obliterated.

Mr. Khalil said he had gone outside his house about 4 a.m. today to relieve himself when the bombs struck. It was unclear from his account whether his neighborhood was struck directly or whether the blast and shock waves of exploding bombs collapsed his home.

Jets were heard, and a B-52 bomber was seen flying toward Tora Bora in four sorties, about 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. on Friday and about 4 and 10 a.m. today in Jalalabad.

There was no way to immediately gain firsthand confirmation of the deaths late today.

The road to Gudara is controlled by several sets of gunmen with varying loyalties, and no one travels it at night. The trip from Jalalabad is 35 miles away as the crow flies. A reporter in Jalalabad seeking an overnight visit to Gudara on Friday was discouraged by Afghan officials and villagers who said his safety could not be guaranteed.

The cumulative accounts of Afghan refugees in Pakistan and internally displaced people in Afghanistan suggest that at least several hundred civilians, perhaps more, have been killed in Afghan cities and villages since the American bombing of Taliban and terrorist targets began nearly eight weeks ago.

A delegation of villagers from Gudara came to Jalalabad on Thursday to press for an end to the bombardment. They sought help from the self- proclaimed regional government, the Eastern Shura, which took over in Jalalabad from the Taliban two weeks ago.

"Civilized countries talk about human rights and then they bomb us," said a village elder, Muhammad Tahir. "Give my message to the Pentagon: This is our village. This is our only place for living."

The Pentagon has not made an attempt to account for the deaths of civilians, save to say that it regrets any unintended deaths. No national government, health service or rescue force exists in Afghanistan. There are very few functioning hospitals. Survivors in isolated villages are cut off from communication with the outside world. They bury their dead as quickly as possible.

Tora Bora has been the target of repeated American bombings for the past 10 days. Reports began to surface last week here in Jalalabad that Al Qaeda forces, as many as 2,000 of them, might be hiding in the warren of caves and tunnels that honeycomb the ridges of the mountain range at Tora Bora, in south-central Nangarhar province, and that Mr. bin Laden might be among them.

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