- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 6, 2002

KHWAJA KHIEL, Afghanistan Hiding herself inside a black shawl, the woman curled up on the dirt floor wailing for her husband, who was killed fighting alongside American soldiers in eastern Afghanistan.

Her 3-month-old son lay close by in a homemade cradle that swayed gently. It was suspended from the ceiling of a room decorated with pictures of his dead father, Kalim.

At least two other Afghan fighters, and one American soldier, died with Kalim in an attack Saturday that opened the largest ground offensive of the United States' 5-month-old war in Afghanistan.

By Monday, the United States had recorded seven more deaths in the offensive in the Shah-e-Kot mountains, when al Qaeda fire hit two U.S. helicopters.

As Kalim's wife sobbed, his father walked slowly up the muddy path to his sun-baked mud house, helped by a cane, flanked by two other sons also fighters with U.S. forces in Shah-e-Kot.

"I worry all the time. What can I do? Our life is only war," the father, Haji Niaz Mohammed, said, his voice breaking and eyes filling with tears. He stopped speaking and hung his head.

Kalim was 23, the father of three children.

Kalim's brother, Tameen, 22, said Kalim died on the first day of the U.S.-led attack on al Qaeda fighters hunkered down in the mountains.

"We didn't see anything or anyone," Tameen said of Saturday's fighting. "The mortars hit, one after another. My brother died right away. I called for someone, 'Please help me.'"

Tameen and a third brother, Fazil, carried Kalim to the nearest vehicle. Everyone had scattered, Tameen said in the fragmentary English he learned at school in Kabul, the Afghan capital.

Of the three, Kalim had always dreamed of being in the army.

"He liked the military things. He had guns … he wanted to be a soldier," said Tameen, who dreams of being a pilot.

Tameen said he had trained for five days with American troops in Gardez on how to use a Kalashnikov assault rifle. Like many Afghan men, he didn't need much coaching.

Americans supplied his unit with Kalashnikovs and $200 each a month to fight with them against al Qaeda and Taliban forces.

"I want to get rid of these people because they have given a black face to Islam," Tameen said.

Mr. Mohammed said Kalim was born when fighting began in Afghanistan, with the invasion by the Soviet army in 1979. "This is Afghanistan, always war," he said.

He fears for the lives of his other sons, two of whom are too young to join the fighting.

"I had five boys. Now I have four," Mr. Mohammed said with a sigh.

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