KUNDUZ, Afghanistan (Reuters) - The desperately poor Afghan villagers heard that the Taliban had abandoned loaded fuel tankers by the river and thought it was their lucky day. Hundreds ran to fill jugs of the valuable stuff.
Suddenly, a U.S. F-15 fighter jet roared over and opened fire. Mohammad Deen heard the explosion. When the flames died away by Friday morning, charred corpses were still strewn on the riverbank.
Afghan officials say as many as 90 people died in the strike, which NATO forces say was called in by German troops to target Taliban fighters who had hijacked two fuel trucks. Villagers could scarcely conceal their rage.
“It’s a tragedy, and people are angry, very angry. The international community came here to help, but they are not helping anymore, they are only dropping bombs on us,” said Deen.
Video footage filmed by Afghans at the scene the next morning showed piles of charred bodies lying by the river, beside chunks of twisted metal. The frame of one of the tanker trucks still smoldered.
In the nearby provincial capital Kunduz, dozens of villagers, some visibly angry, gathered at a small regional hospital, a crumbling concrete building abuzz with frantic activity as doctors treated more than a dozen injured.
Burn victims lay bandaged and groaning in the courtyard. Some waited to be airlifted to Kabul for more treatment with the help of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
ICRC spokeswoman Jessica Barry, part of a team trying to help evacuate some of the wounded, said it was impossible to know how many people had died.
One man, Wazir Gul, stood still as he watched his badly burned brother, Mohammad, lying motionless under a white cotton sheet in the back of a battered pick-up truck near the hospital.
“He is so burned and injured that he cannot move,” Gul said.
Many said they too, did not know how many people had died, fearing many bodies may have been washed away by the river. Others did not know what the Taliban were doing in their area and what the fuel tanks were meant for.
One village elder said anger at the foreign troops was mixed with resentment toward the Taliban themselves, traditionally entrenched in the south but increasingly active in northern provinces like Kunduz.
“The Taliban stole that fuel for themselves,” said Haji Amanullah, the elder. “They could not use it so they dumped it. It’s not like they are helping any of us. We can only pick up things they abandon.”
Editing by Peter Graff