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Eyewitnesses: Civilian death toll much lower

Kabul rubble
Residents look for their belongings amid rubble of their destroyed house in Kabul  

By Christiane Amanpour
CNN Chief International Correspondent

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- Local Afghan employees of an international aid agency claimed that a total of 10 civilians had been killed as a result of the U.S. bombing campaign in Kabul.

They also said that morale among Taliban troops remained high and that the U.S. had bombed a lot of "junk" because weaponry had been moved to rural areas.

The aid workers arrived in Islamabad from Kabul on Wednesday to relay information about what is happening in Kabul.

They claimed that 10 civilians had been killed since the bombing began the night of October 7.

The figure is much lower than the 70 civilian fatalities in Kabul as claimed by the Taliban. Across Afghanistan, the Taliban said "around 500" civilians have been killed or injured.

The 10 include four U.N. local de-mining staff, a 6-month-old baby killed in a misfire admitted by the Pentagon, a 13-year old-girl killed at a junction near the airport, and four children killed Thursday near an apartment complex.

The aid workers were told Thursday that two bombs had hit the complex, one just outside the complex were children were actually out playing "spot the aircraft," while another had hit a nearby road causing no casualties.

The aid workers said part of their job is to visit every report of civilian hits and check casualties and damage. They believe there are no more than the 10 deaths.

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Asked about military casualties, the aid workers said they could not say because the Taliban don't give them that information.

However, they said they believe military casualties to be light since Taliban morale is high in the city.

Part of the reason morale is high, they said, is that the United States is not bombing populated areas.

That is unlike past civil wars when local warring factions purposely targeted populated areas and civilian dwellings.

They also said they have no reports of heavy casualties on the Taliban front lines.

When asked whether there were any military positions near places where civilians were killed, they said anyone who's visited Kabul knows there are military posts, bases, positions "every second street" in the capital.

The aid workers also said that the Pentagon's stated aim to hit military assets was in fact hitting a lot of "junk," old planes left on the airport and other equipment.

They said the Taliban has moved any valuable hardware to rural areas or inside buildings.

The aid workers also said that since the start of the war the Taliban morals police and others had stopped harassing the public.

The aid workers said at first people in Kabul had been terrified by the thought of what the unknown super-power could rain down on them. Two weeks of military activity have calmed the panic, they said.

The Taliban have reinforced defensive lines around Kabul, to make sure the Northern Alliance cannot easily advance, they reported.

However they reported the Taliban were still "humbled" in their response to the overwhelming U.S. air campaign, but were asserting that if the campaign switches to the ground the Taliban are perfectly capable of defending themselves.

They are confident they can handle "whatever the U.S. throws at them," the aid workers said.

The Taliban are not sending their own military troops or hardware out to the hinterlands in defense of tribal areas.

They said they are confident the tribal chiefs will be able to defend against any foreign forces. Instead the Taliban are preparing to defend urban areas like Kabul.

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Children were among those accidentally killed in airstrikes launched by the U.S.-led coalition against the Taliban  

In contrast, most civilians say they are not afraid of U.S. ground forces because they hope they will usher in a new government.

But the aid workers said they don't want United States to be an occupying force.

The aid workers said civilians they talked to were cheered by the news that the former king, Zahir Shah, might come back.

They said they are eager for Zahir Shah to declare his intentions and for a political vacuum to be avoided.

They worry that the Northern Alliance may come storming back into Kabul bringing with them looting and anarchy. The Northern Alliance was driven out of Kabul in 1996.

The aid workers said trucks are bringing food in from Pakistan and there are no shortages in the city.

They said only 50,000 people had left the city in the last month, a tiny portion of the city's 1.6 million population.

Humanitarian assistance by aid agencies has come to a virtual halt, the workers said.

There have been no humanitarian airdrops near Kabul, and the coming Afghan winter is causing worry, they said.


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