In Kabul- Snapshots from a city under siege

Sunday, October 28, 2001

KABUL, Afghanistan -- A black truck rumbles through the rocket-ruined streets of the Afghan capital, the hulking anti-aircraft gun it carries sheathed in a black tarpaulin.

If this day is like the ones before it, the tarp will come off in the evening when bombardment by U.S. jets resumes -- and Taliban anti-aircraft guns once again come to life.

The roving unit of Afghanistan's ruling militia is one of the only vehicles allowed on the street at night in Kabul. A curfew takes effect at 8:30 p.m.

While the Taliban prowl the city, ordinary people cower in their homes, listening to the rattle of anti-aircraft fire and the concussive roar of bomb strikes, trying to comfort their frightened children.

It's daylight, and still the occasional aircraft is overhead. There's an explosion, a burst of anti-aircraft fire. But the intrusion is brief.

Outside in the warm sunshine, a sheep bleats as a shepherd boy prods him along the street with a stick.

A girl of 5, her hair matted, uncombed and unwashed, scrapes a small tin dish across the road. When a man on a bicycle passes, she holds out the dish -- a plea for food, accompanied by a pleading little smile.

Some relief for Kabul's hungry came Saturday when a Canadian-based Islamic charity, the International Relief Agency, distributed bags of flour in front of a mosque in the heart of the city.

Old men, the destitute, and widows hidden in their billowing burqas lined up for their share. Small children played atop the bags until Taliban soldiers shooed them away.

The charity said 220 sacks were distributed. But it was of little comfort to some despairing Kabul residents.

"I don't care if I die, because we have nothing," said Fazl Karim.

Late Friday and early Saturday, the darkness was filled with the roar of jets, the thunder of explosions, the boom of anti-aircraft fire. In the distance: smoke, flames, fireballs.

On the eastern edge of the city, in a multistory housing complex built during the Soviet era for employees of the communist government, frightened residents gathered on the first floor.

"We were all so afraid," Ghulam Abbas said Saturday. "It was a very, very bad night for us."

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