Explosives that US knew would kill innocents continue to take their toll

Robert Fisk

10 August 2002


Tamim's family live in Joee Sheer, which means "stream

of milk". But, outside his slum home, a stream of

warm, reeking sewage flows. Never was there more

reason to take off your shoes at a wooden door.

Inside, you climb a narrow staircase and step into an

ante-chamber in which Tamim's mother sits on the

floor. She wears a purple scarf and the skin around

her eyes, after four weeks of crying, has become heavy

and blistered. Tamim is dead; which is why I am

sitting in this tiny room opposite this quiet, solemn


Her son's killer was a small, round, yellow cylinder

buried beneath the ground ? a small fragment of an

American cluster bomb ? which was infinitely more

sophisticated and more efficiently made than anything

in this ramshackle home. Tamim worked for the Halo

Trust, the mine-clearing operation to which Diana,

Princess of Wales, gave so much publicity, and he was

an experienced man, 25 years old, with four years of

de-mining to his name.

"I know what I'm doing," he used to tell his mother.

"It was partly because of our poverty that he did the

work," she says. "I took him to the Halo office for

this job. He got $130 (98) a month. On the morning of

his death, he had been taking a rest in the minefield.

He had some yoghurt and sat in a corner and all of a

sudden it exploded."

This kind of story-telling has a certain ritual, the

circular memory that recasts, again and again, the

moment of terrible truth. "His uncle came home that

day ? it was a month ago ? and he was crying. He said

he had a headache. Then he said that Tamim had injured

himself. The moment he said 'injured', I knew that it

was over. But thank God at least my son died a

dignified death, trying to save other people's lives.

He didn't die robbing or torturing or killing."

The family think they will receive about 12,000 in

compensation, not much in comparison to the 53,000

that a dead American mine-clearer's family might

expect. But these are Afghan prices for Afghans dying

in Afghanistan while trying to destroy America's


The mines, of course, come from a host of countries,

some from the old "evil empire", others from the

current "axis of evil" and, needless to say, many from

the "civilised" countries which are fighting the war

of "good against evil": the old Soviet Union, Iran,

Korea, the new Russia, Belgium, Italy, the United

States and Britain.

But Tamim ? like so many other Afghans ? was killed by

an American cluster bomb, 20 per cent of whose

"bomblets" bury themselves in the ground, turning

themselves in a millisecond into a mine. When the

Americans dropped this ordnance on the Taliban, they

must have known this; they must have known that each

of their missions in their "war on terror" would later

cost the lives of countless innocent Afghans.

Sitting on the table of Abdul Latif Matin, the cluster

bomblet looks more like a toy than a killer. It is

round and yellow with a canvas fan on the top. "BOMB.

FRAG BLU 97A/B 809420-30 LOT ATB92G109-001," is

printed on the side. BLU stands for Bomb Live Unit and

202 of these little murderers are inside each 430kg

CBU ? Combined Effects Munition ? dropped by American


Mr Matin is a regional manager for the UN Mine

Clearing and Planning Agency in Kabul which has 15

mine-action organisations ? including Halo ?

co-ordinating 4,700 staff across Afghanistan.

Statistics, for Mr Matin, bear no emotions. His office

covers seven provinces around Kabul in which 1.1

million unexploded bombs and mines have already been

cleared. In these de-mining operations, about 100

Afghans have died. More than 500 have been injured,

many of whom return to the minefields to work once

their wounds are healed.

The thousands of other Afghan mine victims are a kind

of limbless army. They queue at the Mirweis hospital

in Kandahar for artificial legs. They watch another

small army of prosthesis specialists carving and

shaping the legs and arms of future victims. They

stand in the darkened ruins of this grim, hot city.

But it is the cluster bomb ? the newest and deadliest

of Afghanistan's hidden mines ? that absorbs the work

of Abdul Latif.

"The coalition forces claimed that only 5 per cent

fail to explode but we think the figure is nearer to

15 per cent," he says. "Just a few days ago, three

children were wounded. One of them threw this bomblet

at another. She thought it was a toy. The trouble with

the BLUs is that they go underground ? they caused our

two most recent fatalities among de-miners.

"I've seen very, very bad tragedies. I have taken the

dead bodies of my own colleagues to their families.

I've had to look at their wives and children. It's

totally unfair and that's why the Afghans themselves

have started a campaign to ban landmines."

If Mr Latif is a bureaucrat, he also has a strong

heart. "We Muslims think that de-mining is part of our

Holy War ? it's a 'jihad' against the invisible

enemies of Afghanistan. Yes, of course, we believe if

we die de-mining, we will go to paradise."

Which is hopefully where Tamim now resides. His solemn

mother produces two photographs of him. In the first,

he stands in his de-mining clothes, at home, in front

of a net curtain, bearded and ? you only have to look

into his eyes ? frightened. In the other photograph,

he stands on a mountainside in dark clothes, every

inch an Afghan waiting for martyrdom.

Mr Latif acknowledges that mine producers have helped

his organisation with funds and equipment. But it is

the Afghans themselves who have to do the dirty work.

"The strongest support we need is for these people to

stop producing the mines and cluster bombs," he says.

Just for the record, two American companies made the

vicious little munitions that killed Tamim and his

colleague. One is Olin Ordnance of Downey, California.

The other is Alliant Tech Systems Inc of Hopkins,

Minnesota. They were awarded a contract in 1992 for

9,598 cluster bombs ? a total of almost two million

BLUs ? to replace the same type of weapons that were

used up in the Gulf War the year before. Cluster bombs

not only kill, it seems. They are also profitable. 


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