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Afghan Immigrants in US Debate Air Strikes - 2001-10-12

As U.S. led forces continue to bomb installations of the Taleban and al-Qaida network, Afghan Americans say they are concerned about civilian casualties. U.S. officials say they are taking great care to avoid civilian populations, but some Afghan immigrant groups in the United States want to see an end to the bombing. The issue is dividing many Afghan immigrants in Fremont, California community south of San Francisco.

In the business district of Fremont, California - just south of San Francisco - known as "Little Kabul," an Afghan immigrant shopkeeper displays American flags, and also does a brisk business selling them. Next door, a U.S. flag is attached to the door of an Afghan restaurant.

Across the street is a small security firm run by Steve Faryabi, an Afghan immigrant who also heads an organization called the Afghan American Association. No one can speak for the entire Afghan community here, which is 70,000 strong. But Mr. Faryabi says there is consensus on several issues. Community members share the pain of their fellow Americans who lost loved ones in the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. And the community wants Osama bin Laden out of Afghanistan. At this point, nearly everyone here is also opposed to the Taleban.

There the consensus ends. Mr. Faryabi says he is impressed with U.S. military tactics, but like many in this community, he worries about the unintended consequences of the U.S. bombs and missile attacks. "The way they have been doing it is very well organized, but I am still very concerned," he said. "No matter how careful you are with a bomb, no matter how careful you are with a missile, you could miss a target and hit a civilian area. No matter if the victims are in New York, no matter if they are in Afghanistan, after all, they are all human and we want to prevent innocent people getting killed."

Mr. Faryabi says he wants to see an end to the bombing and more covert action on the ground. He also wants more support for Afghanistan's Northern Alliance, the main opposition group fighting the Taleban.

Not everyone here supports the Northern Alliance. The U.S. Afghan community reflects the same divisions that are found in Afghanistan. Ethnic Pasthuns tend to oppose the Northern Alliance, while ethic Tajiks, like Mr. Faryabi, tend to support it. But expressions of concern for Afghans caught in the conflict are heard from all sides.

Katrin Fakiri belongs to an Afghan community organization called the Society of Afghan Professionals. Ms. Fakiri is a human resources specialist for a company in the San Francisco region. She has lived here for 20 years, but she was born in Afghanistan and worries about its future after the fighting.

"We all hope that something positive will come out of this, that we'll have a nationalist, if not democratic government, that maybe the U.S. or other countries might help Afghanistan during the reconstruction phase," Mr. Fakiri said. "We're hoping that these things will come out of it. But at this point, how many more bombs are they going to drop? And it's such a bad situation because we have no idea, no news, as to how many people have died, who's hurt, what's been bombed? Are the hospitals still there, what was left of them? It's just a very disturbing situation."

The lack of information is frustrating for the Afghan community here. Casualty figures are sketchy, and they come from the Taleban government, which few think is trustworthy. Most people here accept the assurances that U.S. planners are doing their best to avoid civilian targets, but they say that bombs can miss their targets and missiles can malfunction.

Still, restaurant owner Wahid Andesha says that after years of war in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union, followed by factional fighting, the current bombing missions and other U.S. actions may finally end the turmoil. "For me, Afghanistan has been damaged for so long, has been bombarded for so long, if this time, this bombarding is completed and hopefully promises freedom, I don't have any problem because people in that region, I heard they're getting away from the bombing, and hopefully the American pilots and the American technology will be so accurate that we don't have to bombard too many innocent people," he said.

Another Afghan American, Kawun Kakar, works for a California law firm. He is a former human rights officer for Afghanistan with the United Nations. He served in that post from June, 2000 until June of this year, working from U.N. offices in Islamabad, Pakistan. Mr. Kakar says in Afghanistan, 40 people are killed or injured by landmines every week, and malnutrition is widespread. The former human rights worker says some action is necessary to end the suffering of Afghans, but the United States and its allies must exercise great caution.

"In every way, Afghans are in an extremely terrible situation. So I think the U.S. ought to be extremely careful in targeting Afghan soil, making sure that civilians are not hurt," Mr. Kakar said. "And also considering some long-term goals as well, because unless Afghanistan is peaceful, the scourge of terrorism cannot be eradicated from that region because it would always be a hub for the disgruntled, the unhappy, the pushed out people from around the world."

And what is the best way to bring an end to the use of Afghanistan as a base for terrorism covert action, sanctions, diplomacy or targeted bombing? Afghan-Americans in Fremont, California, cannot agree on that, while the Bush administration, with the support of Congress, says all are necessary. All sides agree, however, on the need to rebuild Afghanistan if the Taleban is toppled and to provide effective relief for the Afghan people.

Photos by VOA's Mike O'Sullivan.