Afghan villagers flee their homes, blame U.S. drones

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“Nobody ever comes here. It’s a little dangerous sometimes because of the Taliban,” said Zarullah Khan, a neighbor of Mr. Rasool‘s.

But the historic significance of his newfound refuge was lost on Mr. Rasool.

“Who’s Khalis? We stopped when we found a house for rent,” he said, grumbling at the monthly $200 bill shared among the three families packed into the high-walled compound where he spoke with the AP.

Standing nearby, Mr. Rasool’s 12-year-old grandson, Ahmed Shah, recalled the attack in Meya Saheeb. The earth shook for what seemed like hours, and the next morning his friends told him there were bodies in the nearby village. A little afraid, but more curious, he walked the short distance to Meya Saheed.

“I wanted to see the dead bodies,” he said. And he did — three bodies, all middle-aged men.

ISAF reported five militants were killed, but Mr. Rasool claims they were businessmen. One of the dead had a carpet shop in the village, he said.

Disputes over the identities of those killed have been a hallmark of the 12-year war.

In Pakistan, an AP investigation last year found that drone strikes were killing fewer civilians than many in that country were led to believe, and that many of the dead were combatants.

In Afghanistan, the U.N. has reported that five drone strikes in 2012 resulted in civilian casualties, with 16 civilians killed and three wounded. It reported just one incident in which civilians were killed the previous year.

At the other end of the province from Meya Saheeb and Khalis Family Village lies the village of Budyali. To get there, one must drive along a long, two-lane highway often booby-trapped by militants, before turning turning off onto a narrow, dusty track and finally crossing a rock-strewn riverbed.

A Budyali resident, Hayat Gul, says the sound of “benghai” is commonplace in the village. He says he was wounded nearly two years ago in a Taliban firefight with Afghan security forces at a nearby school that led to an airstrike.

Tucked in the shadow of a hulking mountain crisscrossed with dozens of footpaths, the school now is in ruins.

The early morning strike on the school took place on July 17, 2011, hours after the Taliban attacked the district headquarters and the Afghan National Army appealed to their coalition partners for help.

Mr. Gul said he and a second guard, 63-year-old Ghulam Ahad, were asleep in the small cement guard house at one end of the school. They awoke to the sound of gunfire as more than a dozen Taliban militants scaled the school walls around midnight, chased by Afghan soldiers.

A bullet struck Mr. Gul in the shoulder. Frightened and unsure of what to do, Ahad stepped outside the guard house and was killed. Bullet holes still riddle the badly damaged building.

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