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Victims' Families Tell Their Stories...

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    Victims' Families Tell Their Stories Following Nato Airstrike In Afghanistan

    'I took some flesh home and called it my son.'
    The Guardian interviews 11 villagers

    At first light last Friday, in the Chardarah district of Kunduz province in northern Afghanistan, the villagers gathered around the twisted wreckage of two fuel tankers that had been hit by a Nato airstrike. They picked their way through a heap of almost a hundred charred bodies and mangled limbs which were mixed with ash, mud and the melted plastic of jerry cans, looking for their brothers, sons and cousins. They called out their names but received no answers. By this time, everyone was dead.

    What followed is one of the more macabre scenes of this or any war. The grief-stricken relatives began to argue and fight over the remains of the men and boys who a few hours earlier had greedily sought the tanker's fuel. Poor people in one of the world's poorest countries, they had been trying to hoard as much as they could for the coming winter.

    "We didn't recognise any of the dead when we arrived," said Omar Khan, the turbaned village chief of Eissa Khail. "It was like a chemical bomb had gone off, everything was burned. The bodies were like this," he brought his two hands together, his fingers curling like claws. "There were like burned tree logs, like charcoal.

    "The villagers were fighting over the corpses. People were saying this is my brother, this is my cousin, and no one could identify anyone."

    So the elders stepped in. They collected all the bodies they could and asked the people to tell them how many relatives each family had lost.

    A queue formed. One by one the bereaved gave the names of missing brothers, cousins, sons and nephews, and each in turn received their quota of corpses. It didn't matter who was who, everyone was mangled beyond recognition anyway. All that mattered was that they had a body to bury and perform prayers upon.

    "A man comes and says, 'I lost my brother and cousin', so we gave him two bodies," said Omar Khan. "Another says I lost five relatives, so we gave him five bodies to take home and bury. When we had run out of bodies we started giving them limbs, legs, arms, torsos." In the end only five families went away without anything. "Their sons are still missing."

    Omar Khan's small eyes narrowed and his mouth formed a disgusted circle. "The smell was so bad. For three days I smelled of burned meat and fuel."

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