Ground zero: Afghanistan
JagdalaK, Afghanistan — In Afghanistan today, it seems everything is a target for Soviet bombs - including me. In Jagdalak, about 30 miles east of Kabul, I returned after a year's absence to see the'changes on this mujahideen (resistance fighter) ''front.'' The first thing I notice is a vastly altered landscape. A 1,000-pound bomb makes a big crater, and one house formerly used as a guerrilla center is now virtually destroyed and abandoned. The new center is farther up the valley.
Today, there are no civilians living in Jagdalak - all 400 families left for Pakistan more than two years ago. About 30 mujahideen are here, one of about seven guerrilla centers in the valley. (Violence is not new to Jagdalak. In 1842 , the British lost 16,500 men in the valley, massacred by Afghans.)
The Soviets have stepped up their military operations - including carpet-bombing - at various fronts this spring, having failed to crush the Afghan resistance during 41/2 years of occupation. The morning I arrived in Jagdalak, there had been a bombing attack. Almost every morning for a week, one or two Soviet Su-24 Fencer jets had flown over the valley - very low and fast, but they wouldn't attack. After seven days of this, everyone was a little tense.
On the afternoon of May 15, a reconnaissance plane flew over the center. The next morning everyone is up quickly - hiding their bedding (we slept on the roof). After tea I walk across the valley quickly to sit with my cameras near a cave, and wait to see if the camp would be attacked.
By noon no jets. I cautiously cross the valley and walk up to the center. A few of the boys are having lunch - dal (lentils) and bread - and I join them. The boy who cooked that day comes over and sits next to me and practices his few English expressions: ''This is a window,'' ''My darling,'' ''This is a book.''
I finish my tea and walk to a small group of trees by some bombed-out houses about 200 yards behind the camp. Two mules are grazing nearby. I sit under a tree and start to read a book. About 12:30 I hear two helicopters. Another journalist (British) is nearby and quickly joins me in a small gully. The helicopters (Mi-24s) circle high above the valley. We watch them with binoculars for a few minutes. My hands are shaking and it is hard to focus the binoculars.
The Brit says we should move to a small quarry about 300 yards behind us. The quarry, however, is across a very open area - just rocks and dirt.
As we start to move, the jets - four of them - sweep in and attack. The first bomb hits just in front of us on the other side of a small hill. In lots of black smoke, I look up and see a big rock flying through the air in our direction. It misses.
''Let's get out of here,'' I say. We seem to be in the center of the attack. We start to move and get behind the wall of what was a house - our last cover before the open area. The jets fire again and a big bomb hits just to our left, perhaps 200 feet away. This was the only explosion that I was conscious of hearing during the whole attack.
We're trying to run across the open area now - afraid, out of breath, feeling very helpless. My legs hardly move. The Brit sees the jet coming in our direction - ''He's fired, get down.''
I can see the flares that the jet drops after he fires to confuse heat-seeking missiles. Another close one. Have the helicopters seen us? Why are they bombing this empty area? We get up, stagger to the quarry and hide behind the black smoke, hoping not to be seen by the helicopters.
In a half hour it's all over.
Slowly we walk back to the center. The area where we were is covered with shrapnel, new bomb craters, parts of rockets. One mule is dead.
As we approach the center we see smoke - the center has been badly hit - lots of confusion, rooms destroyed, the bedding smolderQng. Now we get the bad news: When the attack started, the men and boys went into a cave just below the camp. Some of the boys would not go into the cs yh ne had to be forced in and another who was standing at the entrance was killed when a bomb hit just above him - closing the cave and trapping the others inside until another bomb hit and opened the entrance. ''Allah was with us,'' said Azim, a guerrilla.
By late afternoon the camp was deserted - we moved across the valley to another, better hidden center. They carried the boy's body on'q0o /O mo to the top of a small hill. The commander and men read from the Koran as the sun sets. That night they bring the boy home to his village and his and parents, two hours down the valley.