Abdulrashid says he is certain that no “insurgents” were killed; the only ones who perished that day were his son and his uncle, “over 60” years old.
Establishing the truth in Afghanistan is a daunting task. Those who follow the increasingly frequent attacks by Afghans on their mentors — allied soldiers, mostly Americans — suspect that all the locals are hostile to foreign troops. But those who follow the civilian death count have doubts about the ISAF reports.
Ten days later, on March 26, another night raid was conducted in the same vicinity and, Abdulrashid’s neighbors told him, nobody was killed. (He was with Jamila in the hospital at the time.) Yet the ISAF report on this incident says that “the combined security force was engaged by multiple insurgents with small arms fire. The security force returned fire, killing the attacking insurgents.”
Again, it is difficult to determine the truth.
There are so many incident reports in the ISAF files; how would those same events be described by the Afghans involved, I wonder.
Later in March, according to Abdulrashid’s relatives and other Afghans, the Taliban staged two successive attacks on that same village. Abdulrashid thinks they were looking for relatives of one man because they believed he was collaborating with the international forces; possibly they blamed him for the two ISAF raids. In the first attack, they shot his son, Qari, 18. The next day, they killed a woman named Bibi and shot her husband.
Were those retaliatory attacks? Was it a warning, as Abdulrashid suggests? These are questions without answers.
The United Nations, which tracks civilian casualties in Afghanistan, has reported a significant drop in deaths attributable to the ISAF in the past year, and has said that Taliban and other insurgents cause far more fatalities among civilians. But it is hard to know how many deaths like that of little Naquibullah go unreported or how many civilians are branded by the ISAF as “combatants” just because they are fighting-age men.
Although the international forces acknowledged injuring Abdulrashid’s wife in the first raid, they have not offered him the normal compensation. The legal team of the Norwegian Refugee Council delivered a letter to an ISAF base on his behalf, stating that his son was killed and specifying the medical costs incurred by his wife. He is waiting for an answer.
The day after the second night raid by the ISAF, 10 families fled from Abdulrashid’s village. The day after the second Taliban attack, seven more families left. Most of them came to the outskirts of Mazar-e Sharif, where they squat in primitive compounds. A total of 99 people from this community were displaced in quick succession: 12 men, 17 women, 49 girls and 21 boys. The families lost their livelihoods, left their land and are now in an even more precarious situation. .
While it may prove impossible to pin down the events that overtook Abdulrashid’s village in March, one more casualty can be counted in this endless war: These 99 Afghan “hearts and minds,” if ever they could be won, are now irrevocably out of reach.
Anna Husarska, a policy analyst, was special consultant for the Norwegian Refugee Council in Afghanistan.
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