Again, US air strike kills Afghan civilians

From Reuters:

Afghan villagers say air strike kills civilians

Mon Apr 13, 2009 2:18am EDT

Rohullah Anwari

ASADABAD, Afghanistan – Afghan authorities were checking reports Monday of civilian casualties from an overnight air strike by U.S.-led forces, after villagers in a remote region said five people had been killed.

Civilian deaths caused by foreign troops while hunting the Taliban have sapped support for the presence of Western forces in Afghanistan and become a major cause of friction between the government and its Western backers.

“We were having dinner when the attack happened. Five civilians were killed, among them children,” village resident Ezatuallah, who uses one name, told Reuters by telephone from Wata Pur, a rugged district in eastern Kunar province near the Pakistan border.

He said ten people were wounded.

A spokesman for the U.S. military in Kabul said he had no information about the strike but would check.

Last week five civilians, including an infant, were killed in a U.S.-led operation in southeastern Khost province. U.S. forces acknowledged those deaths and apologized.

The number of civilians killed in operations by foreign forces while hunting the Taliban-led insurgents in Afghanistan has steadily climbed, reaching hundreds last year, according to human right groups and the government.

See also here. And here.

New US rocket attack targets Pakistani village: here.

AFGHAN President Hamid Karzai summoned the top NATO general in Afghanistan for the second time in three days on Sunday to explain soaring civilian casualties.

What the New York Times unwittingly reveals about the war in Afghanistan: here.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has warned Pakistani authorities that US-Pakistan relations will be imperiled unless they heed Washington’s admonitions and bloodily suppresses a growing Islamacist insurgency fueled by the US occupation of Afghanistan: here.

12 thoughts on “Again, US air strike kills Afghan civilians

  1. Apr 13, 7:44 AM EDT

    Afghan villagers: NATO strike killed 6 civilians

    Associated Press Writer

    KABUL (AP) — Afghan villagers told a public health official Monday that a NATO airstrike killed six civilians in a mountainous region of eastern Afghanistan, but the military alliance said four to eight militants were killed. Thirty others died in a spate of violence around the country.

    Four people were wounded in the airstrike, including one woman, and had been taken to a hospital in Asadabad, the capital of Kunar province, said Asadullah Fazli, Kunar’s chief of public health.

    Fazli said that villagers from Wata Pur district told him that six civilians died during the airstrike, and that three houses were destroyed.


  2. Apr 19, 4:33 AM EDT

    Karzai asks NATO to explain civilian deaths

    Associated Press Writer

    KABUL (AP) — President Hamid Karzai called the top U.S. and NATO general in Afghanistan again to explain civilian casualties caused by international forces, while an insurgent attack Sunday on a security checkpoint killed five police, an official said.

    Karzai asked Gen. David McKiernan to explain the reported deaths of six civilians in two incidents, Karzai’s office said late Saturday. It was the second time in three days Karzai brought up the topic with McKiernan. On Thursday, the U.S. general was summoned to the presidential palace to explain other deaths.

    Karzai has long complained about civilian deaths caused by international forces. Last year, McKiernan implemented new rules of engagement intended to cut down on the deaths of innocent Afghans, but they still occur, especially in nighttime raids.

    Karzai’s office said three civilians were killed by international forces in Helmand province on Friday. The NATO-led force said three people were killed when its forces fired on a vehicle from which a man who was “posing a threat” was exiting. Two people inside the vehicle were also killed, it said.

    “The death of a single innocent Afghan is a tragedy,” said Capt. Mark Durkin, a spokesman for the NATO-led force. An investigation is under way, he said.

    Karzai said three civilians, including a woman, also were killed in Logar province. The NATO-led force said in a statement that three militants were killed Saturday during an operation in Logar.

    The issue of civilian casualties is extremely difficult in Afghanistan, where militants don’t wear uniforms and even innocent villagers will defend their homes with gunfire if unknown soldiers enter their village at night. Journalists can rarely travel to the sites of battles to verify claims by villagers of civilian deaths.

    In western Farah province, meanwhile, militants attacked a police checkpoint on the outskirts of Farah city early Sunday, killing at least five police, said Baryalai Khan, spokesman for the provincial police chief.

    An unknown number of police were missing after the attack and officials were investigating whether any of the police may have had links with the militants and helped facilitate the attack, he said.

    Violence has risen across Afghanistan in the past three years as a Taliban-led insurgency has gained steam. President Barack Obama has ordered an additional 21,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan this summer to bolster the record 38,000 already in the country.

    Associated Press reporter Rahim Faiez contributed to this report.


  3. New Zealand reluctant to send more troops to Afghanistan

    20.04.09 15:33

    New Zealand is reluctant to send more troops to Afghanistan because it believes the situation there is becoming more unstable, Prime Minister John Key said Monday, dpa reported.

    “The determining factor is whether we can see a plan, whether the plan in our opinion is likely to work and whether it fits in with our long-term exit strategy,” he said at his weekly news conference.

    The United States has asked New Zealand to commit more troops to Afghanistan on top of the 130 army engineers it has working in Bamyan province as a provincial reconstruction team (PRT).

    News reports have said that Washington would like a unit of New Zealand’s crack Special Air Services forces, who were last deployed in Afghanistan in 2006, to return as part of President Barack Obama’s plan to increase foreign troop levels in Afghanistan to better combat Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters.

    But Key said, “The risk assessments that I’m getting from Afghanistan is that our troops in the PRT in Bamyan province are becoming more at risk – in other words, the situation in Afghanistan is becoming more unstable.

    “It would be my long-term desire to exit our commitment in Afghanistan,” he said.

    Key said the government was reviewing the military situation in Afghanistan before it made a final decision on sending more troops.


  4. No troops without an Afghan exit strategy, Key tells the US

    Monday 20 April 2009

    NEW Zealand’s prime minister has told Washington that it must come up with a coherent exit strategy for Afghanistan before he will accede to a US request to send elite Special Air Service troops back into the country.

    Prime Minister John Key said on Monday that sending the commandos for a fourth tour of duty in Afghanistan “would be a very hard decision, not something we would take lightly.”

    Washington formally requested that New Zealand sends its SAS troops back into Afghanistan earlier this month.

    Mr Key said that he had not seen details of the US proposal, but stressed that, “if we were to do something, it would be part of a long-term exit strategy.”

    The New Zealand commandos have already completed three tours in southern Afghanistan since 2001.

    New Zealand also has 140 troops serving in a “Provincial Reconstruction Team” (PRT) in Bamiyan province.

    Mr Key said that “the risk assessments that I’m getting from Afghanistan is that our troops in the PRT in Bamyan province are becoming more at risk – in other words, the situation in Afghanistan is becoming more unstable.”

    He emphasised that the “determining factor” to committing more troops would be a clear US plan for Afghanistan which “fits into our long-term exit strategy,” adding: “It would be my long-term desire to exit our commitment in Afghanistan.”

    Green Party spokesman Keith Locke insisted that SAS troops should not return to Afghanistan under any circumstances, describing the war as “counter-productive.”

    “The generals are saying they might be winning every battle, but the war is being lost,” Mr Locke said

    He added that the government should be giving economic aid to the Afghan people rather than participating in the US-led counterinsurgency campaign.


  5. Tue Apr. 14 2009 6:45:06 PM

    Death of female Cdn shocks relative who wants troops out of Afghanistan

    The Canadian Press

    Trooper Karine Blais was killed on April 13, 2009, when the vehicle she was travelling in hit an improvised explosive device in Shah Wali Kowt, north of Kandahar City. (CP24-DND Handout)

    MONTREAL — The godfather of a young female soldier killed in Afghanistan just two weeks into her first deployment fears the young woman’s sacrifice was in vain.

    Echoing the sentiment of many Quebecers, who have consistently been among the most vocal opponents of the controversial mission, Mario Blais said it’s time for Ottawa to pull Canadian troops out.

    “I think she did this for absolutely nothing,” Blais said during a telephone interview.

    “The Russians were in Afghanistan for many years and they couldn’t push them back. I ask myself what Canada is doing. We were blue berets, now we’re fighters.”

    Blais made the comments after learning his 21-year-old goddaughter, Karine Blais, had been killed Monday by a roadside bomb north of Kandahar City.

    She is the second female Canadian soldier to die in Afghanistan since the mission began in 2002.

    Blais said Prime Minister Stephen Harper should “get the troops out of there as fast as possible” and that the Canadian military should return to its peacekeeping roots.

    “I’m worried for all those who are there,” he said of the latest rotation comprised largely of Quebecers based out of CFB Valcartier.

    “I don’t think it’s our place at all, at all, at all. We should be leading peacekeeping missions, not combat missions like we’re doing.”

    Blais said news of Karine’s death came as a “shock” to her many friends and relatives who are now grieving in her home town of Les Mechins in eastern Quebec.

    “This is a hard blow for the family,” he said, adding nobody was particularly thrilled when she decided to take up a career in the military.

    He said she didn’t talk much about the mission before she deployed, perhaps so as not to upset them or perhaps because she didn’t realize how bad it would be.

    “You are our ray of sunshine and you will always be in our hearts. Your sense of humour and your vivacity will remain forever in our memories.”

    Blais described his goddaughter as a very social girl who grew up working at the local convenience store.

    He said she enjoyed adventure and signed up for the army a few years ago when recruiters stopped by her school.

    He believes she hoped the army would help her learn a trade that she could then apply outside of the military.

    At gatherings during the Christmas holidays, relatives begged her to take up an administrative position, but she’d already signed up for a role on the front lines as a truck driver.

    Blais said she was living with a man who is also in the army and that the two planned to buy a house.

    Karine is survived by her father Gino Blais, her mother Josee Simard and her younger brother Billy.


  6. Sun Apr. 19 2009 6:19:01 PM

    Afghanistan stress drives military families to seek help

    The Canadian Press

    Sgt. Simon Litaliem gives his children, one-year-old Oliver, and three-year-old Laurie, a hug as he prepares to leave CFB Petawawa Thursday, Jan. 27, 2005.

    CFB Petawawa, Ont. — The stress of multiple tours in Afghanistan is showing, as military families on this sprawling base and across Canada seek help in growing numbers.

    At the Phoenix Centre for Children and Families in nearby Pembroke, Ont., the military caseload has soared to 71 families — up from 12 before the deadly Kandahar mission began more than three years ago. Another 26 are on a waiting list.

    They’re grappling with issues ranging from anxiety-driven child behaviours like bed wetting and aggression, to domestic violence, depression and marital breakdown.

    Petawawa is an epicentre of reverberating effects from repeated exposure to an always tense and sometimes horrific war zone. Thirty-eight soldiers of the 117 Canadian troops killed in Afghanistan since 2002 were based here.

    Soldiers are trained for up to a year for tours they voluntarily accept. Many are heavily decorated veterans of missions in Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo and the Golan Heights.

    But Afghanistan — particularly the volatile South where Canadians have been punching over their NATO weight since 2006 — is different. It involves dodging massive roadside bombs while taking fire from an enemy that is as ghost-like as it is resilient.

    “There has always been a risk attached to deployments,” said Pam Sampson, whose husband Warrant Officer Brian Sampson has six tours under his belt in hot zones around the world. He heads to Kandahar in September.

    “This one is different because I am scared,” she said. “Before, I was worried about how I was going to manage on my own, and it was difficult not seeing him for six months. Whereas this time, I’m scared. You know, I’m scared that he’s not going to come home alive.”

    For Sampson’s two daughters, aged 15 and 18, news of their Dad’s next assignment hit hard.

    “Just upon notification, my kids started having nightmares. My oldest daughter . . . she had nightmares about a padre coming to the office at her school to tell her that her Dad was killed.”

    Sampson has thought in cruel detail not just about the risk of losing her cherished husband, but that he’ll come home hurt or forever changed.

    “There’s also the mental injuries,” she said. “And I have heard other women say: ‘That’s not the same man that I used to know. He’s come back different.’

    “I’ve had other soldiers say to me it’s hard to go to a place like Afghanistan and not have it change who you are.”

    Yellow ribbons flutter from a bridge leading to the Petawawa base to welcome the latest rotation of soldiers home. About 1,800 local troops and 400 reservists — many of them completing their second or even third tours in Afghanistan — will arrive over the next several weeks.

    Therapist Greg Lubimiv, executive director of the Phoenix Centre in nearby Pembroke, says most soldiers will gradually blend back into usual routines.

    For a small but growing minority, however, problems will range from sleeplessness and irritability to heavy drinking or drug use, erratic behaviour, panic, anger and hopelessness.

    A post-deployment questionnaire was filled out last November by 8,222 Canadian Forces members. It showed that, three to six months after coming back from Kandahar, about six per cent — almost 500 respondents — had symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and/or major depression.

    “Issues of family violence have increased,” Lubimiv said. “It is much, much higher pressure, stress, worry and anxiety going on for family members now than I think ever before.

    “I don’t think we understand . . . how much what they’re exposed to there can impact them,” he said of soldiers who return to Kandahar with brief breaks at home between training and field exercises.

    “They’re seeing a buddy who’s blown up, who’s torn apart. They’re seeing children and women and men who are . . .. dying of impoverishment.”

    An admittedly overstretched military has taken several steps to ease the burden on soldiers who often feel it would be career-limiting to turn down an overseas tour.

    Parliament agreed last year to extend Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan to 2011 from the previous 2009 pull-out date.

    “I think the sacrifices are enormous and commendable,” said Defence Minister Peter MacKay. “We’ve attempted to double the number of counsellors that are available to deal specifically with the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. We’ve come a long way and there’s a long way to go.”

    Ottawa committed $98 million to hire another 218 military mental health specialists, for a total of 447, by last month. That time frame was extended to 2010 as bases including Petawawa, like smaller communities across the country, struggle to attract social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists.

    The former military ombudsman concluded, based on interviews in 2007, that soldiers “and their families were not getting the care that they needed in the Petawawa area to deal with operational stress injuries, the consequences of which could be tragic.”

    In response, the military now spends more time screening and training troops to ensure they’re mentally and physically fit before heading to Kandahar, says Lt.-Col. Jim Kile, a physician and commanding officer overseeing health care on the base.

    He calls it “First aid for the mind.”

    Mental-health staff “introduce our soldiers to the idea that they could be exposed to horrific things, horrible things, while in places like Afghanistan,” he said. Troops are trained to frame such ordeals as “a normal person in an abnormal situation.”

    There are also efforts to mentally and physically assess soldiers when they come home, although issues can go undetected for months unless self-reported.

    For families, there are 24-hour deployment centres for information updates, military family resource centres and a toll-free crisis line. Plans are underway for eight new support centres for injured soldiers and their families on bases across Canada, including Petawawa.

    Such changes are welcome, said Bernadette Wren, director of mental health services at the Pembroke Regional Hospital. But she still expects a surge of referrals two to three months after soldiers return and start to process their latest tour.

    Wren paused when asked about the lingering impact of such stress.

    “I would think, given what we’ve experienced locally — with the losses, the trauma, with this being the third tour for some people — there’s definitely going to be long-term effects.

    “And we won’t even have the full understanding of all that for probably the next 10 to 15 years.”



    Paratroopers ‘humiliated and assaulted naked teenage soldier’

    By Daily Mail Reporter

    Last updated at 6:47 PM on 23rd April 2009

    Five paratroopers ‘humiliated’ a 19-year-old soldier while on duty in Afghanistan because they thought he was a coward, a military court heard today.

    The soldier, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, was stripped naked, handcuffed and held down and then indecently assaulted while other soldiers looked on, a court martial in Colchester, Essex, heard.

    Prosecutors said the incident – alleged to have taken place in a tent in southern Afghanistan in the autumn of 2006 – was photographed and videoed.

    Lance Corporal Ian Greenslade, Private Christopher Martin, and Lance Corporal Jamie Morton arrive at Colchester Garrison Military Court

    The court was shown photographs of the soldier lying naked with his hands and ankles bound.

    The five paratroopers – Corporal Simon Scott, Lance Corporal Peter McKinley, Lance Corporal Jamie Morton, Lance Corporal Ian Greenslade and Private Christopher Martin – all deny ‘disgraceful conduct of an indecent kind’. All five are believed to be in their 20s.

    Prosecutor Lieutenant Colonel Alex Taylor said the soldier was “unpopular”.

    He told the court that the soldier had missed a training exercise prior to troops being deployed to Afghanistan because of an Achilles tendon injury.

    He had arrived two weeks later than the soldiers because he was attending a course and had missed an operation in Afghanistan after becoming ill shortly before troops were due to deploy.

    Private Christopher Martin (left) and Lance Corporal Jamie Morton are alleged to have been part of the ‘humiliating’ incident

    Lt Col Taylor said the soldier had not originally reported the incident to senior officers.

    But he had gone absent without leave after returning to Britain and had made allegations relating to the incident after being contacted by a senior officer while he was away from his unit.

    The soldier said he experienced hostility after missing the training exercise prior to troops being sent to Afghanistan.

    ‘There was a lot of ill feeling towards me,’ he told the court. ‘I had experienced at some point arriving back and finding my personal items, my bed, had been turned over and trashed.

    ‘There was just generally a lot of ill feeling towards me. I had a number of accusations. People would say: “Oh you are lying. You are making up excuses.” Things of that nature.’

    Lance Corporal Peter McKinley is alleged to have punched the soldier

    The soldier said the ill feeling continued when he arrived two weeks later after completing a course.

    He added: ‘There was continued ill feeling.’

    He described how he had become ill shortly before troops went on an operation in Afghanistan. He said he had suffered severe stomach pains and had to spend 36 hours in a field hospital.

    And he said the ill feeling continued after he left the hospital.

    ‘I was treated with a lot of ill feeling and open hostility,’ he said.

    ‘I would come back and find some of my stuff had been overturned. I was told I was a liar. I was a useless soldier, a coward. Things of that nature.’

    He added: ‘The majority of the time I was treated horribly.’

    The soldier told the court how shortly before the alleged assault he had argued with McKinley during a training run.

    He said when they returned to their accommodation McKinley had attacked him.

    ‘Lance Corporal McKinley punched me in the face,’ said the soldier.

    ‘I was punched to the ground… I had flashing lights in front of me.’

    He said McKinley had shown ‘open anger and dislike’ towards him.

    The soldier described how he was subjected to an attack in an accommodation area.
    He said McKinley – and two other soldiers – had approached him. McKinley had told him to put on a pair of plastic handcuffs known by servicemen as plasticuffs.

    The soldier said cuffs had been attached to his wrists and ankles and his clothes had been pulled off.

    He said he was then dragged along the floor by McKinley and was then assaulted.

    He named a number of soldiers who were present at the time and said he had been held down by a number of people who were using ‘a lot of force’.

    The soldier said he had tried to ‘roll around’ and tried to break the cuffs but could not.
    All five accused paratroops deny any wrongdoing.

    The Ministry of Defence has refused to release their exact ages or addresses to journalists.

    The hearing adjourned for the day and continues tomorrow.


  8. Afghanistan: First execution since fall of Taliban

    Wednesday, 28 April 2004, 9:47 am

    Press Release: Amnesty International

    Afghanistan: “First execution since fall of Taliban”

    Amnesty International today (26 April 2004) expressed shock at news of the first judicial execution known to have been carried out in Kabul since the fall of the Taliban. Abdullah Shah, a military commander from Paghman, was executed on approximately 19 April. Amnesty International urges President Karzai to declare a formal moratorium on executions in line with assurances given to Amnesty International in 2003.

    Over the past year, Amnesty International has extensively documented the many failings of the criminal justice system in Afghanistan. The system is currently incapable of fulfilling even the most basic standards for fair trials as stressed by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, following her observance of Abdullah Shah’s trial proceedings.

    Amnesty International fears that Abdullah Shah’s execution may have been an attempt by powerful political players to eliminate a key witness to human rights abuses. During his detention, Abdullah Shah reportedly revealed first hand evidence against several regional commanders currently in positions of power against whom no charges have been brought. They are among the scores of other Afghans implicated in serious crimes, including war crimes and crimes against humanity. The lack of a fair and independent mechanism to deal with such crimes means that most of the accused have not been brought to justice and remain in positions of power from which they continue to threaten the Afghan population. This is of particular concern in the context of upcoming elections due to be held in September 2004 when it is believed that several of these individuals will be standing for political office.


    Amnesty International wrote to President Karzai last September about Abdullah Shah’s case after Amnesty International delegates had witnessed some of the proceedings at his trial and found it to fall short of international fair trial standards in several ways. According to international standards, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Afghanistan is state party, a person who faces charges punishable by death must be represented by counsel at all stages of the proceedings. However, Abdullah Shah had no defence at his trial. The right to a public hearing is another essential safeguard of the fairness and independence of the judicial process. However, Abdullah Shah’s case was heard in a “special court” that was not open to the general public. International standards also set out guidelines regarding those hearing the case and establish tha Everyone accused of a criminal offence has the right to obtain the attendance of witnesses and to examine witnesses on their behalf during trial, as set out in the ICCPR. However, in Abdullah Shah’s case, although 23 written complaints formed the bulk of evidence against him, there was no chance for cross-examination.

    International standards also set out that restraints must be removed when a detainee or prisoner appears before a judicial authority in order not to undermine the presumption of innocence. Abdullah Shah was wearing leg irons throughout his trial. Abdullah Shah also claimed in court that he was forced to sign a confession and that he was tortured in detention, pointing to injuries from his leg irons, as well as injuries to his teeth and hand. Allegations that statements have been extracted through torture must be promptly and impartially examined by the competent authorities, including judges. However, to Amnesty International’s knowledge, no investigation was undertaken.

    In October 2002, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, following her observance of Abdullah Shah’s trial proceedings, stated that; “[t]he lack of capacity in the domestic judicial system has time and again been pointed out and indeed been observed by me during a well-publicized trial. I am concerned that the safeguards and restrictions according to international standards for imposing capital punishment cannot be observed at this stage. I therefore urge that the punishment of death penalty be suspended and a moratorium on executions be implemented until such standards can be met.” In 2003, the UN Commission on Human Rights called on the ATA to “declare a moratorium on the death penalty in the light of procedural and substantive flaws in the Afghan judicial system.”

    View all documents on Afghanistan at


  9. Mujahideen now blamed for carnage

    Chris Sands, Foreign Correspondent

    * Last Updated: April 28. 2009 1:42AM UAE / April 27. 2009 9:42PM GMT

    Some of the men accused of human rights abuses in the 1990s civil war are shown in photographs lining a wall in Afghanistan’s parliament. Chris Sands / The National

    KABUL // Seventeen years after senior members of the anti-Soviet resistance arrived in Kabul as heroes, Afghans are calling for them to face war crimes trials.

    April 28 1992 is officially remembered as a time of great victory here, marking the day when militia leaders known as the Mujahideen seized the capital and overthrew a communist government that had brought untold suffering to much of the country.

    It was a moment that many people dreamt about during the long and brutal struggle against Soviet occupation. But rather than usher in a new era of peace and prosperity, what followed was a disaster.

    Afghanistan descended deeper into chaos and Kabul was carved up between rival factions fighting for control. The bloodshed lasted four years in the city, creating the vacuum from which the Taliban rose.

    Now, as another war casts its shadow over the country’s future, prominent members of the Mujahideen continue to have immense influence. Some have seats in parliament, others hold positions in the government. They invariably enjoy lives of luxury and none of them has yet been held to account for perhaps the darkest period in the capital’s history.

    “If I had the power and caught one of these leaders, I would just kill him in the street. I want the government to arrest them and bring them to court,” said Sayed Ghafar, a local resident.

    “They gave this situation to me. When I was in the sixth class at school I started the jihad with them, now I am selling tomatoes. My sons are doing the same. They should bring them to court and ask them why.”

    Having fought against Soviet occupation, Mr Ghafar, armed with a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, helped liberate Kabul. He then served as a bodyguard to a government minister, but when two of his friends were killed in the fighting that ensued he decided enough was enough.

    Today he runs a vegetable stall in an area that was a battleground between different factions led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Ahmad Shah Massoud and Abdul Rashid Dostum.

    “When we first came to Kabul, for three days the people had a lot of respect for the Mujahideen. After the fighting started, all the women, without any burqa or anything like that, were running, trying to escape.

    “Some people came in the name of Pakistan and took them; some people came in the name of Mujahid and took them. From then until now the situation has been very bad.”

    At the heart of the 1992-1996 civil war was a basic struggle for power and a dispute over who should be president. Rockets rained down on the city’s streets, women were gang raped, civilians abducted and families murdered in their homes.

    Initially there was hope that the 2001 invasion would end up instigating a process of justice and reconciliation. That soon faded when the United States openly backed many of the Mujahideen leaders in the struggle to depose the Taliban.

    “They removed the Russians and ended the jihad; now they have brought us another kind of Russians,” Mr Ghafar said.

    His anger towards the Mujahideen commanders is common, although they do still share some support among sections of the population. In a part of Kabul formerly controlled by Massoud’s militia, Inzer Gul remembered how he had once been afraid to travel into the city just to do routine tasks.

    “Now they are eating the innocent people’s meat,” he said. “They have good houses, lots of money, nice cars. They didn’t find this money and they didn’t work for it; they just killed the people and robbed them. I want the government to bring them to court and ask them how they got this money because it is not theirs. It is the people’s.”

    The physical destruction caused by the civil war is still evident today, particularly in the west of Kabul. Some buildings lie in ruins and bullet holes pepper the walls of homes.

    In a 2005 report titled Blood-Stained Hands, Human Rights Watch gave extensive details of the crimes that took place in a single year of the conflict, April 1992 to March 1993.

    “During this period, the various factions battled over Kabul and committed countless atrocities against the Afghan civilian population. Tens of thousands of civilians were killed and injured amidst the fighting,” the introduction to the report says.

    “Many if not most of these civilian casualties were the result of direct or indiscriminate attacks on the civilian population and other serious violations of international humanitarian law.”

    Last week, Afghanistan’s independent human rights commission announced that anyone accused of such abuses should not be allowed to stand in the presidential elections this August. Four years ago the same organisation found that more than 90 per cent of Afghans consider justice for offences committed in periods including Mujahideen rule to be “very important” or “important”.

    In an area of town once controlled by Hizb-e-Wahdat, a Shiite faction, 80-year-old Nabi sat with his granddaughter in a little roadside cobbler’s stall, mending shoes. Behind him were pictures of Massoud, the late leader of the Northern Alliance, which he said he had put up only because some soldiers gave them to him and he had no choice.

    He came to live here after a group of militiamen stole his house in another part of Kabul during the fighting. Under the Soviet occupation he thought the Mujahideen were bad for Afghanistan and the civil war seemed only to confirm his suspicions.

    “At that time we could not walk in the street because if they saw us they would fire a rocket at us,” Nabi said. “And during the night we could not even take a lamp to the toilet because we were afraid they would shoot us.

    “The government should punish them and ask them why they have put us in this situation.”


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