AINGARI, Afghanistan -- Taliban forces are taking cover among the civilian population of Kabul and stashing their military equipment in mosques and schools to avoid U.S. airstrikes, according to refugees who have fled the capital in recent days.
Allied planes have attacked targets in and around Kabul nearly every day since the U.S.-led airstrikes began Oct. 7. The attacks are aimed at Taliban military sites. But the refugees said Tuesday that many Taliban fighters are now hiding among civilians in the capital.
"The airstrikes destroyed some (military) sites, but now the Taliban come at night to the houses of the people and bring their equipment into civilian places," said Mohammad Ali, 50, a jobless former bus driver in Kabul who crossed the Taliban and opposition Northern Alliance front lines Tuesday morning, walking for six hours to reach this alliance-controlled village about 20 miles southeast of Jabal Saraj.
"They come at night to schools and mosques and universities where there are lots of trees," Ali said as he leaned on a cane at an alliance checkpoint here. At one mosque at Kotal-e Khairkhana, a residential area in the northern part of Kabul, the Taliban has parked 10 tanks inside the compound, he said.
"The people are very angry and worried," fearing that the tanks will attract U.S. airstrikes, he said. "For this reason, they are not going to the mosque to pray."
Many Kabul residents support the U.S. airstrikes in hopes that they will bring about the fall of the Taliban, even though the bombing campaign has caused some casualties among civilians, refugees said Tuesday. At least eight civilians were killed and 12 others wounded when U.S. bombs destroyed one house and damaged three others in the Poroja-e Jadid neighborhood of northern Kabul on Sunday, refugees said.
As Ali and other refugees were streaming into alliance-held territory, fleeing what they said were worsening conditions for Kabul's civilian population, U.S. jets bombed Taliban front-line positions north of the capital for a third straight day, and Taliban gunners fired two rockets into a crowded market in the town of Charikar, killing two civilians and injuring at least 15.
Habib Khan, 55, is turbaned, with a gray-streaked beard. He arrived at the checkpoint with his wife and seven children crammed into a wheezing Soviet-built Uaz jeep.
"The situation in Kabul is very bad," he said. The Taliban "placed their tanks and equipment near the houses of the people." Taliban fighters have not been greatly affected by the U.S. airstrikes on Kabul, he said, because "they're not in a constant place; they're in civilian places and the front line."
"The Taliban stay in mosques and schools," said a clothing salesman, 22, who gave his name only as Massoud. Such equipment as armored vehicles, he said, are hidden under trees "next to mosques."
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