April 02, 2007

Name: CAPT Doug Traversa
Posting date: 4/2/07
Stationed in: Kabul, Afghanistan
Hometown: Tullahoma, TN
Milblog url
: traversa.typepad.com
Email: [email protected]

Han, one of our interpreters, has taken a keen interest in my blogging. I asked him if he wanted to share information with Americans, and he agreed enthusiastically. Within a couple of days he had downloaded over 100 photos* and when we had a spare moment, we sat down in front of a computer and he told me the recent history of Afghanistan as seen through his eyes. Even though I’ve been here almost a year, and can see the signs of war all around me, I still find his story amazing.

1940 - 1973: Zahir Shah rules as king of Afghanistan.

Han says this was a relatively peaceful time, without much fighting between the tribes. (The ex-king lived in exile for many years once he was overthrown, and was still alive when the Taliban were defeated. At that time many Afghans were hoping the monarchy would resume and the king would return to power, but once they realized the U.S. was pulling the strings, they knew this was not to be.)
1973 - 1978: Daoud Khan, cousin of the King, abolishes the monarchy and declares himself president.

1979 - 1986: Babrak Karmal rules as president. Soviet Union invades in 1979.
1986 - 1992: Dr. Najibullah takes over from Karmal. The Soviets withdraw 15 Feb 1989.

Han was a young boy during this period. It was peaceful in Kabul. He just remembers going to school, and his only worries were his classes. Even though the Soviets had invaded, things were relatively good in the capital. Many Afghans soldiers we work with today served in the Afghan Army during this time and were trained by the Soviets. In fact, the buildings I work in were built by the Soviets.

April 15th, 1992: The Mujahideen take Kabul and liberate Afghanistan.  Najibullah is protected by UN and lives on the UN compound. The Mujahideen form an Islamic State and hold elections. Professor Burhannudin Rabbani takes power.

There are four major tribes in Afghanistan, and many smaller ones. Although the factions of Mujahideen are generally divided up along tribal lines, this is not always the case. Once the Soviets were defeated, a Mujahideen government was set up, but civil war soon broke out. Kabul was still untouched by combat, but would not be for much longer. I’ve heard from numerous sources that Kabul was a nice, modern, cosmopolitan city up until this point.
1993: There is a civil war throughout 1993 between four main groups of Mujahideen. Large scale fighting breaks out in Kabul and in the north.

Han is a young teenager at this time. Combat is going on daily, and much of it is done with rockets. Kabul is slowly destroyed by endless fighting. Han shows me some photos of dead bodies in the streets.

“Sir, I saw these bodies. I stepped over them almost every day. We’d be in school, and alarms would go off to warn about rockets or fighting, and we’d have to run home, and there would be dead bodies in the streets.” Han speaks to me as though trying to convince me of something I won’t believe, but I have no trouble believing him. The look in his eyes is a combination of hopelessness and despair. I am moved by what he must have gone through, and he is seemingly desperate to finally tell his story in such detail to an American. For him, it is urgent that I understand what has happened.   
1994: The Taliban militia is formed and begins to take over the country. Two Mujahideen factions fight against Rabbani and Masood's government. Kabul is reduced to rubble.

Han hates all the Mujahideen. As he shows me photos of their soldiers, he tells me which tribe they are from, based on the clothes they wear.  He repeatedly shows me how they look like animals, and tells me how evil they are. Whenever he shows a photo of Rabbani, he calls him names. One photo shows Rabbani and some of his cabinet praying. Han snorts.

“They will all go to Hell,” he says matter-of-factly.

As the Taliban advance near Kabul, the Mujahideen pull out of the city. The capital is spared any more fighting, but the damage has been done. Almost every building is rubble. Han shows me many before-and-after pictures of buildings, including the one his father worked in. The despair in his voice makes my heart ache. He lived through the slow destruction of a lovely city, watching his own people kill each other and destroy Kabul in the process.
1996 - 2001: Taliban militia force President Rabbani and his government out of Kabul. After the capture of Kabul, the Taliban enter the UN compound where Najibullah is being protected, drag him out, and execute him. They rule until driven out by the Northern Alliance.

Han was an older teenager during the reign of the Taliban. At first people welcomed the end to warfare, and the Taliban did not immediately implement the repressive and oppressive measures for which they are infamous. One of the first shockers was the day that Han and his friend bought tickets for a soccer game in the big stadium in Kabul. He said two good teams were going to be playing, and they were excited to go and watch. But the once the game got going and the stadium was packed with fans, the Taliban stopped the game and began a series of executions of “criminals.”  According to Han, no one knew this was going to happen. The Taliban wanted a huge crowd to see the executions, so they pulled this surprise at a major sporting event. Han had many photos of people being killed. Men were hung from the soccer goals.

“Sir, I saw this with my own eyes!” He repeated this over and over.

One photo shows a woman forced to kneel in the penalty area (you can clearly see the chalk lines for the soccer field), as a man points a rifle at her head and shoots her. You can see the bullet striking the ground in front of her as her life ends. Another photo shows a young teenaged Taliban holding a severed hand and foot. Yet another shows the man who has just had them cut off.

Han continues to barrage me with photos of Taliban brutality, all inflicted in the name of God. As much as Han hates the Warlords, this pales in comparison to his feelings about the Taliban. My mind reels as he tells me story after story of their hatefulness. I see a photo of a man and woman being stoned to death for having sex. Men are pulled from cars and buses, and their hair forcefully cut if it isn’t short enough. A woman is beaten with a stick for showing her face. On and on it goes.

While in school Han experienced many inspections by the Taliban. They would come in and forcefully cut the students’ hair if it was too long. Life was an endless torment. Women could no longer work, and girls could not go to school. TV and radio were forbidden. Music was banned. Total evil reigned.

During this time the Northern Alliance was formed, which was essentially the remnants of the Mujahideen. They were forced into the northeast corner of the country, and as the Taliban passed through the northern cities, they would loot and pillage. Many villages and towns were completely destroyed.

Once 9/11 occurred, and the Taliban continued to harbor terrorists, the U.S. backed the Northern Alliance, and they marched back south and regained control of the country. Many of the Mujahideen leaders are in key government posts today, and many of them still have their own private armies, er, security forces.

* Note: many of the images Han showed me are on this site


Captain, you may inform Han that at least one American (living in Japan) has read his story and seen some of his pictures.

Captain, if your group has cultural awareness or indoctrination classes for new arrivals, perhaps Han could be enlisted into giving a talk to them - and some of his pictures must be shown. More than capturing bin Laden, Americans and other NATO troops are there to try to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan. We are there not to build a nation but to give a nation a chance to rebuild itself. God bless you all (Afghan and American) and stay safe. V/r, -JJ

Sadly most of what has happened to Afghanistan is a spin off from the cold war. I can not help but think that Afghanistan, the United States, and the world in general would have been better off if Reagan hadn't poured in billions of U.S. dollars to support of the Mujahideen. Osama bin Laden would never have become a household name if we would have just minded our own business.

Hi CPT Traversa,

It has taken me several days to think of how to respond to this post. At first I had no words. Then I had too many. Mostly, I am still in utter disbelief that atrocities like these have taken place within my lifetime.

What kind of fanatical belief system okays a teenager walking around with the severed limbs of other people dangling from his fingers? What kind of warped sense of justice fills a stadium with families in order to have them watch executions of other human beings, regardless of the crimes?

I sat there on my couch and pictured my own family with my sweet children being lured into a situation like that and wondered how I would have sheltered them from such violence. It is just unfathomable. I think the whole country must be experiencing PTSD. Seriously. Decades of war and then the Taliban...It will take a couple of generations for this place to come to any kind of normal.

I have enjoyed your posts and admire all of the great things you are doing in your own small way to better the lives and expand the minds of those within your sphere of influence.

Remember: A drop of water in the middle of the lake will keep growing and spreading outward. You never know how far your ripple will carry.

God be with you and keep you safe.

I wonder if there was a referendum about restoring the monarchy, whether it would win. It seemed to do fairly well in the past.

Perhaps that might be a better way to go in Afghanistan.

Moving story. You do a great job of expressing how life is for you and your brethren in Afghanistan. Stay safe and keep up the good work. Also tell the interpreter that from his teachings I have learned a little history about his homeland and, I believe, am a better person for it. I wish every American was able to read your posts and see the interpreter's pictures. Even without your and his words, the pictures spoke for themselves. Again, keep safe. I pray that you all will be returned safely.

Thanks for all the kind words. Han reads this site and checks to see what comments are left. It means a great deal to him that Americans are reading about his country's suffering.

Like american mom, I also had a difficult time responding to your excellent post. During the time the Taliban was taking control of Afghanistan the human rights movement was speaking, in fact, screaming about the situation. At the time the Reagan administration strongly supported the Taliban. The cold war logic was anybody against the Soviets is wonderful. Our government funded and supported the Taliban, and thereby used the nation and people of Afghnistan as a chess board to play against the Soviets. We have now occupied Afghanistan, but our goal was certainly not to rescue Afghanistan from the Taliban. We occupied to punish Afghanistan, because the ruling party, the Taliban, was harboring Al Queda. Our foreign policy goal has never been to aid the Afghan people. I do not believe the situation in Afghanistan will improve until we own up to our actions, and their consequences on the Afghan people. Can we do this? Can the U.S. implement an effective, benign, foreign policy? I also deeply hope Han has an exit strategy because I am worried that when we leave Afghanistan the Taliban will immediately take charge. I do not wish to be critical of the job you are doing, far from it! You strike me as a person totally determined to make the world a better place, no matter what the situation. That has to be making a difference on some level. Best of luck!

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