Nic Robertson: Afghan villagers angry at U.S.
KORAM, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Correspondent Nic Robertson was among a group of international journalists escorted Sunday to the village of Koram in eastern Afghanistan to view what the Taliban say is damage caused by U.S. airstrikes.
ROBERTSON: The Taliban is taking a very small group of journalists on a tour of selected sites inside Afghanistan. Today, they took us to a village called Koram in the mountains some 60 miles west of Jalalabad.
This is a very remote village tucked away in a high mountain gulley. There were some 40 or 50 houses there. The village, when we arrived, there were men digging in the rubble of the houses. About 80 to 90 percent of the houses were destroyed. A local official told us that some 200 people have died in the village. They say that about 400 to 450 people live there.
It is impossible to verify whether or not so many people died in the village. However, local officials say some of the bodies were taken away and buried in villages elsewhere in the area by relatives, and certainly around that village we were able to count about 30 fresh graves.
Now, the Taliban say that this village had nothing to do with any terrorist training camps, and when we put it to one villager that this could have been a place ... high, secure in the mountains, remote, rock-built houses ... when we put it to him that this could have been a place, perhaps, where terrorists were training, he brandished some field implements at us and said, "Is this what Osama bin Laden is fighting with?"
The answer from the villagers there, the survivors of the attack, certainly say that this was a village they were living in, and that it was not a place where terrorists were based.
And certainly, the indications that we saw in the village was of a dwelling place. There were dead goats on the mountainside, an unexploded bomb on the mountainside, dead cattle within the village, dead chickens and certainly an atmosphere of more of a rural, domestic situation than one of military debris strewn around the area.
CNN: Are your reports being critiqued by the Taliban? Are you limited in what you can say, or can you speak freely?
ROBERTSON: We can speak freely. What the Taliban have told us we must do is that whenever we leave the hotel, we must go out with an official representative of the government here. They say we're not free to roam around and go and dig up stories for ourselves. However, they have told us that we can visit any site that we choose to visit. We selected to visit the city's military airfield, and we expect to be going there in about an hour's time.
So, although there are no restrictions on what we say, and apparently there are no restrictions on where we can go, we do have to be accompanied by a government representative.
CNN: What is the mood of the people that you meet and what is their reaction to your presence?
ROBERTSON: Well, there was a very, very violent reaction at the village where the 200 people supposedly met their deaths. When we first arrived, a man came forward brandishing an ax, and another came brandishing a stick.
People there were very, very angry about the attack. Now, the Taliban guards with us told the people to lay down their sticks and axes, and they certainly let us in and let us talk to them.
There is clearly a very high level of anger among these people against the United States at this time. On the route to this village, and it's some 60 miles away, passing through two small villages, there were two, what appeared to be impromptu yet government-backed demonstrations. They were anti-American, anti-Pakistani and anti-British demonstrations, chanting slogans of "Death to Bush," "Death to Tony Blair."
So there appears to be on the streets certainly a great deal of resentment to the current bombardment, a backing of the Taliban's position at this time, people say, and also a great deal of animosity to anyone who looks like an outsider.
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