May 21, 2013
2009, Voices for Creative Nonviolence has maintained a grim record we
call the "The Afghan
which gives the dates, locations, numbers and names of
Afghan civilians killed by NATO forces. Even with details
culled from news reports, these data can't help but merge into one
large statistic, something about terrible pain that's worth caring
about but that is happening very far away.
It's one thing to chronicle sparse details about these U.S. led NATO attacks. It's quite another to sit across from Afghan men as they try, having broken down in tears, to regain sufficient composure to finish telling us their stories. Last night, at a restaurant in Kabul, I and two friends from the Afghan Peace Volunteers met with five Pashtun men from Afghanistan's northern and eastern provinces. The men had agreed to tell us about their experiences living in areas affected by regular drone attacks, aerial bombings and night raids. Each of them noted that they also fear Taliban threats and attacks. "What can we do," they asked, "when both sides are targeting us?"
FIRST RESPONDER'S TALE
Jamaludeen, an emergency medical responder from Jalalabad, is a large man, with a serious yet kindly demeanor. He began our conversation by saying that he simply doesn't understand how one human being can inflict so much harm on another. Last winter, NATO forces fired on his cousin, Rafiqullah, age 30, who was studying to be a pediatrics specialist.
suicide bomber had apparently blown himself up near the airport.
My cousin and two other men were riding in a car on a road leading to
the airport. It was 6:15 AM. When they'd realized that
NATO helicopters and tanks were firing missiles, they had left their
car and huddled on the roadside, but they were easily seen. A missile
exploded near them, seriously wounding Rafiqullah and another
passenger, while killing their driver, Hayatullah."
Although badly wounded, Rafiqullah and his fellow passenger could still speak. A U.S. tank arrived and they began pleading with the NATO soldiers to take them to the hospital. "I am a doctor," said Rafiqullah's fellow passenger, a medical student named Siraj Ahmad. "Please save me!" But the soldiers handcuffed the two wounded young men and awaited a decision about what to do next. Rafiqullah died there, by the side of the road. Still handcuffed, Siraj Ahmad was taken, not to a hospital, but to the airport, perhaps to await evacuation. That was where he died. He was aged 35 and had four daughters. Rafiqullah, aged 30, leaves three small girls behind.
And Jamaludeen knows that those girls, in one sense are lucky. Four years ago, he tried to bring first aid as an early responder to a wedding party attacked by NATO forces. Only he couldn't, because there were no survivors. 54 people were killed, all of them (except for the bridegroom) women and children. "It was like hell," said Dr. Jamaludeen. "I saw little shoes, covered with blood, along with pieces of clothing and musical instruments. It was very, very terrible to me. The NATO soldiers knew these people were not a threat."
THE MANUAL LABORER'S TALE
Kocji, who makes a living doing manual laborer, is from a village of 400 families. His story took place three weeks ago. It started with a telephoned warning that Taliban forces had entered the Surkh Rod district of Jalalabad, which is where his village is located. That day, at about 10:00 p.m., NATO forces entered his village en masse. Some soldiers landed on rooftops and slid expertly to the ground on rope ladders. When they entered homes, they would lock women and children in one room while they beat the men, shouting questions as the women and children screamed to be released. On this raid, no one was killed, and no one was taken away. It turned out that NATO troops had acted on a false report and discovered their error quickly. False reports are a constant risk. - In any village some families will feud with each other, and NATO troops can be brought into those feuds, unwittingly and very easily, and sometimes with deadly consequences. Kocji objects to NATO forces ordering attacks without first asking more questions and trying to find out whether or not the report is valid. He'd been warned of a threat from one direction, but the threats actually come from all sides.
THE STUDENT'S TALE
Rizwad, a student from the Pech district of the Kunar province, spoke next.
Twenty-five days ago, between 3 and 4 a.m., twelve children were collecting firewood in the mountains not far from his village. The children were between 7 and 8 years old. Rizwad actually saw the fighter plane flying overhead towards the mountains. When it reached them, it fired on the twelve children, leaving no survivors. Rizwad's 8 year old cousin, Nasrullah, a schoolboy in the third grade, was among the dead that morning.
twelve children belonged to eight families from the same village.
When the villagers found the bloodied and dismembered bodies of their
children, they gathered together to demand from the provincial
government some reason as to why NATO forces had killed them.
"It was a mistake," they were told.
Twelve children killed in the Kunar province, April 2013 by Namatullah Karyab for The New York Times
"It is impossible for the people to talk with the U.S. military," says Rizwad. "Our own government tries to calm us down by saying they will look into the matter."