Aid workers flee Afghanistan
Thursday, September 13, 2001
Dozens of international aid workers fled Kabul yesterday as Afghans panicked over what they thought might be a U.S. strike, racing into the streets at the sound of fighter jets swooping low over the capital.
"Is it from America?" asked one person as the roar rattled windows. Another said, "I think maybe it is an American jet." But the fighter jet belonged to the ruling Taliban religious militia and headed north toward opposition territory.
Still, fear is close to the surface here. In August, 1998, in retaliation for the bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa, Washington sent 70 Tomahawk cruise missiles smashing into eastern Afghanistan. Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden escaped unhurt.
Howling dogs roamed the dusty, deserted streets as darkness settled in last night. Shops had closed early. "People are afraid. Maybe you will be asleep and then suddenly the rockets from America will come," carpenter Zurmai Khan said.
Most international aid workers, including all but four of the 80 United Nations staff in Afghanistan, had already called it quits. The UN sent in three emergency flights, and more flights will arrive today to take the four remaining UN employees to neighbouring Pakistan.
The disheartened parents of eight foreign-aid workers being held here will also be aboard the UN aircraft today. Two Americans, two Australians and four Germans are being held.
The rest of the international-relief community is also leaving today.