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Americans Appeal for US Aid for Afghan Bombing Victims

Four Americans who lost family members in the September 11 terrorist attacks are appealing to Congress to create a fund for Afghans who lost relatives in the U.S.-led bombing campaign in Afghanistan. The four recently returned from a 10-day trip to Kabul.

During their trip, the four Americans met with Afghans who lost loved ones when bombs meant to target Taleban and al-Qaida terrorist targets inadvertently killed innocent civilians.

The Americans want the United States to create a special fund for Afghan victims. The fund would be similar to the one established for Americans who lost family in the September 11 attacks.

At a news conference at the U.S. Capitol Wednesday, Kelly Campbell, who lost her brother-in-law, Craig Amundson, in the attack on the Pentagon, shared photos and told stories of the Afghans she met. Among them were two children whose home was struck by a bomb.

"On the day the U.S. bomb hit their house, both of these children stopped talking," said Ms. Campbell. "A 9- and 10-year-old who haven't talked in months. The little boy is having spasms, the little girl is drooling constantly. Their father says they are not sleeping at night, they are having nightmares, they are wetting the bed. These kids are severely traumatized," she said.

Ms. Campbell said she also met a man who narrowly escaped death in the bombing when "he got up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, and on his way walking back to his room, the bomb fell and hit his room. So he is lucky, because if he hadn't gotten up he would probably be dead. But he is not so lucky, because the shrapnel from the bomb took his leg. He's 20 years old and had a job as a house painter. But now he can't work," she said.

Ms. Campbell says the Afghans told her they understand the United States did not mean to hurt them, that these incidents were accidents. They said they appreciated the effort to rid their country of Taleban rule. But they also said they needed help to rebuild their lives.

Medea Benjamin, director of Global Exchange, which sponsored the trip to Afghanistan, said the American visitors raised the issue of a compensation fund with Acting Ambassador Ryan Crocker at the American Embassy in Kabul. She said he appeared open to the suggestion, and said the United States has in the past compensated civilians unintentionally harmed by U.S. military action.

"He was very positive toward the idea of a fund for the Afghan victims, and said there was precedent in three other countries, in Lebanon, Grenada and Panama, where the United States had inadvertently destroyed properties or injured people, and had received compensation," said Ms. Benjamin.

Ms. Benjamin says the size of the compensation fund would depend on the number of victims who died in the bombing. She cites a range of independent studies that say between 1,000 and 4,000 Afghan civilians were killed in the bombing campaign. She says she hopes the U.S. government conducts its own study to produce a more accurate figure.

For Ms. Benjamin, the fund is one the United States can well afford. "Assuming there were about 2,000 people impacted, and they each got a claim of about $10,000, this would make for a fund of roughly about $20 million," she said. "This is a very insignificant amount for the United States, but would be a world of difference to the people who were so impacted, and would extent a strong message to the people of Afghanistan and the rest of the people around the world that the United States values the lives of all innocent victims."

Masuda Sultan was not among the four who went to Kabul. But she attended the Capitol Hill news conference to voice her support for the compensation fund. Ms. Sultan is an Afghan-American who recently visited Kandahar to discover she lost 19 members of her extended family in the bombing. "This is part of the follow-through process in the war on terrorism. This is part of the healing process," she told reporters.

Ms. Benjamin of Global Exchange says U.S. lawmakers of both political parties are embracing the idea of a compensation fund for Afghans.

Her delegation also met Tuesday with Afghanistan's interim leader, Hamid Karzai, who also expressed support for the fund.