Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Human Costs of War in Afghanistan

Absolutely a must-read is today's WaPo piece by Joshua Partlow about Afghan refugees from Helmand who are now congregating in pitiful conditions near Kabul.  The camp Partlow visits currently "shelters" about 1000 families, and is the largest of about 30 such "informal settlements" near Kabul.
Extrapolating from the statements of these unfortunate people, what's excruciatingly obvious is that thousands of Afghans have been simply swept up by, and caught in the middle of, the horrors of a down-and-dirty war that they did nothing to bring down upon themselves and of which they want no part.  Most of them seem to have no love for the Taliban; but at the same time, they've had more than they want of the presence of "infidels" in their land.
Ahunzada, a 35-year-old mullah, gets by on meager donations from other refugees, given to him as payment for teaching Islamic classes and leading the daily prayers in a low-ceilinged makeshift mosque built from mud. Two years ago, he left his opium fields in Sangin, one of the most violent parts of Helmand, which British troops recently handed over to U.S. Marines after taking casualties for four years.
"Every day, fighting is going on there. The more infidels who come to our country, the more Afghans die, and the less safe we become," he said.
Ahunzada has little affection for the Taliban. His father, Mohammad Gul Agha, and his brother, Abdul Zahir, both died when a fireball engulfed their car on the road to the provincial capital. The insurgents, he said, had planted the bomb to target a passing U.S. military convoy.
"We are not happy from either side, but I believe the British and American troops are more cruel than the Taliban," he said. "I have seen it happen: The Taliban come on motorbikes, they open fire, then they leave. Then the Americans just come and kill us, they bomb us, they open fire on us, they kill the children and innocent people.". . . .
Barigul and his family left Helmand last month. He said the decision was the culmination of long-running harassment from American troops and their insurgent enemies. He has been detained, he said, accused of planting bombs, searched at checkpoints, and slapped in the face by foreign troops. Outside the Musa Qala district center, where American troops are dominant, the Taliban patrol the villages, block children from attending school and kill Afghans accused of collaborating with foreigners.
"If we grew our beards, the Americans arrested us and put us in jail saying we were Taliban. If we shaved, the Taliban gave us a hard time," he said. "What are we supposed to do, shave half of our beard?"
While camp residents describe themselves as the war's collateral damage, caught between two rival forces, they also clearly want foreign troops to depart.
"Who are the Taliban? They are our brothers, our cousins, our relatives. The problem is the Americans," said Lala Jan, 25, also from Musa Qala. "If somebody attacks from one house, the Americans bomb the whole place. If the Taliban come inside, during the night the Americans come and raid the house. That's the problem."
Meanwhile, the Afghan "Surge" goes on, with the promise of "infidel" soldiers remaining on Afghan soil through at least 2014.  Whatever "good intentions" or "national interests" motivate the American occupation, the fact of the matter is that because of it, thousands more Afghans are going to die horrific, painful deaths  - like that suffered by one individual remembered by one of the refugees, who saw:
"a woman's hair entangled in the mulberry branches, her legs strewn far away in the dirt."
And please, let's hear no "that's war; war is hell" crap.  This entire enterprise will come to no good end - even if the John McCains and Lindsey Grahams among the American "leadership" do eventually declare victory and sing our military's praises as they waltz out.  No matter what happens from this point on, they will be leaving behind a shattered country and a legacy of ill will that will be seared into the collective memory of the people of Afghanistan, even as the McCains and Grahams - and the Obamas - will call upon all of us to remember it as a time of selfless heroism on the part of the United States.  

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