[Afghan News] August 11, 2012 - 08-12-2012, 02:08 PM
By Rob Taylor
KABUL (Reuters) - Three U.S. Marines have been shot dead by an Afghan worker on a military base in southern Afghanistan, in a deadly 24 hours for NATO-led forces during which six American soldiers were killed in rogue attacks.
The shooting took place on Friday night in the Garmsir district of Helmand province, where three U.S. special forces soldiers were killed by an Afghan policeman and comrades earlier in the day.
"Let me clearly say that those two incidents clearly do not reflect the overall situation here in Afghanistan," the chief NATO force spokesman, Brigadier-General Gunter Katz, told reporters on Saturday.
The three Marines were shot by a base employee who turned a gun on them, in the third rogue attack in four days. Foreign military sources said the man had not been wearing a uniform and it was unclear how he got hold of the weapon.
The gunman had been detained and a joint Afghan-NATO investigation team was reviewing security and looking into the reason for the attack.
In the earlier attack, an Afghan police commander and several of his men killed three U.S. Marines in darkness early on Friday after inviting them to a Ramadan breakfast to discuss security.
The three men were all Marine Corps special operations forces and appeared to have been killed in a planned attack by rogue Afghan forces. NATO calls such incidents green on blue attacks.
The NATO force says there have been 26 such attacks on foreign troops since January in which 34 people have been killed. Last year, there were 21 attacks in which 35 people were killed.
But a coalition spokesman said the killings by the Afghan worker would not be included in that tally as it did not involve a member of the Afghan security forces.
Green on blue shootings, in which Afghan police or soldiers turn their guns on their Western colleagues, have seriously eroded trust between the allies as NATO combat soldiers prepare to hand over to Afghan forces by 2014, after which most foreign forces will leave the country.
"SUMMING UP MOOD"
But Katz said the incidents were relatively isolated and were not hurting cooperation between foreign forces and the 350,000-strong Afghan Security Forces.
"We have almost 500,000 police and soldiers working together, side by side, enhancing their trust and enhancing their cooperation in order together to fight for a better future for this country," he said.
NATO has directed its forces to increase measures against rogue attacks, including placing armed "guardian angel" soldiers on duty in areas where troops gather, such as gyms and meal halls. Soldiers are also required to travel in pairs in Afghan base areas and carry weapons at all times.
The majority of rogue shootings, Katz said, were due to personal disagreements between Afghan forces and their Western mentors, or were due to combat stress, rather than successful infiltration of the security forces by insurgents.
The Afghan military has also placed intelligence agents within Afghan units to watch for signs of rogue attacks, with dozens of Afghan police or soldiers moved to other bases following disagreements with foreign soldiers.
"Together with our Afghan partners we look into procedures, how to mitigate these incidents," Katz said.
Last month, an Afghan policeman opened fire on British soldiers in Helmand province, killing three in an attack claimed by the Taliban, and a gunman in uniform killed foreign trainers working for NATO in western Herat province, killing three.
A Taliban statement posted on Twitter said the attacks were "clearly summing up mood of Afghan nation towards foreign occupation".
Violence in Afghanistan is at its fiercest since U.S.-led Afghan troops overthrew the Taliban government in 2001. Insurgents have extended their reach from traditional strongholds in southern and eastern areas to parts of the country once considered safe.
At least six civilians were killed on Friday in Helmand when a roadside bomb blew up their vehicle.
(Additional reporting by Mirwais Harooni; Editing by Robert Birsel)
Afghan policeman guns 10 of his fellow officers, a day after Afghan gunmen kill 6 US soldiers
By Deb Riechmann, The Associated Press
KABUL - An Afghan police officer killed at least 10 of his fellow officers on Saturday, a day after six U.S. service members were gunned down by their Afghan partners in summer violence that has both international and Afghan forces questioning who is friend or foe.
Attacks on foreign troops by Afghans working with the alliance are on the rise and, while cases of Afghan security forces killing within their own ranks are less frequent, together they show how battle lines have blurred in the decade-long war.
The assaults on international service members have stoked fear and mistrust of their Afghan allies, threatening to hamper the U.S.-led coalition's ongoing work to train and professionalize Afghan policemen and soldiers. The attacks also raise questions about the quality of the Afghan forces that have started taking charge of security in many areas of the country as U.S. and NATO combat troops move to withdraw by the end of 2014.
Coalition officials say a few rogue policemen and soldiers should not taint the overall integrity of the Afghan security forces and that the attacks have not impeded plans to hand over security to Afghan forces, which will be 352,000 strong in a few months. But there is growing unease between international troops and their Afghan partners and that's something Taliban insurgents are happy to exploit.
Shakila Hakimi, a member of the Nimroz provincial council, said the policeman who opened fire on his colleagues at a checkpoint in Dilaram district is believed to have had ties to militants. He was killed in an ensuing gunbattle, she said in a telephone call from the provincial capital of Zaranj, along Afghanistan's western border with Iran.
"The checkpoint is in a remote area of a remote district," Hakimi said. "The telecommunications are poor and we are not able to get more details."
Hakimi said the provincial governor has sent a team to the scene to get more details about what happened.
A day earlier, two Afghans shot and killed six American service members Friday in neighbouring Helmand province in the south where insurgents have wielded their greatest influence.
In the first attack, an Afghan police officer shot and killed three Marines after sharing a pre-dawn meal with them in the volatile Sangin district, according to Afghan officials.
Sangin's district chief and the Taliban both identified the gunman as Asadullah, a member of the Afghan National Police who was helping the Marines train the Afghan Local Police, a village-level defence force overseen by the Ministry of Interior. The district chief, Mohammad Sharif, said the shooting happened at a police checkpoint after a joint meal and a security meeting. The meal took place before dawn because of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting in which Muslims abstain from food and drink during daylight hours.
A U.S. defence official had a differing account. He said he's read reports saying a man clad in an Afghan security forces uniform shot the Marines shortly after 1 a.m. not at a checkpoint, but on a coalition outpost. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the incident is still being investigated.
Sidiq Sidiqi, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Interior, told reporters on Saturday that the shooter may have been a member of the Afghan Local Police, but that Afghan investigators also were still reviewing the case.
Then at around 9 p.m. Friday in the Garmser district farther south, an Afghan working on an installation shared by coalition and Afghan forces shot and killed three other international troops, said Maj. Lori Hodge, a spokesman for the coalition in Kabul. A U.S. defence official confirmed the three victims also were Americans. Hodge said both shooters had been detained.
There also were differing accounts of the Garmser shooter's identity.
The U.S. defence official said the gunman was described as an employee of the Afghan Uniformed Police. Sidiqi said initial reports were that the shooter was a student not associated with the Afghan police. Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi claimed the gunman was a member of the Afghan security forces.
Attacks where Afghan security forces or insurgents disguised in their uniforms kill foreign troops have spiked with four such attacks in the past week. There have been 26 such attacks so far this year, resulting in 34 deaths, according to the U.S.-led coalition. It's unclear if the Garmser killings will be counted as one of the so-called "green-on-blue" attacks.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for both attacks in Helmand — the site of many "green-on-blue" killings.
Since 2009, 18 international soldiers, including 14 from Britain, have been killed in such attacks in Helmand. The most recent was on July 1 when three British service members were killed in Sangin by a gunman wearing an Afghan National Civil Order Police uniform.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the latest killings, ordered investigations into the incidents and directed relevant Afghan authorities to work to ensure the safety within training and security institutions.
"The enemy who does not want to see Afghanistan have a strong security force, targets military trainers," Karzai said in a statement.
Associated Press Writer Rahim Faiez in Kabul contributed to this report.
U.S. military chief to discuss Afghanistan in New Zealand
WELLINGTON, Aug. 11 (Xinhua) -- The commander of the United States military Central Command (USCENTCOM) arrived in New Zealand Saturday for talks with senior military officials on the military situation in Afghanistan.
General James Mattis would be in New Zealand until Monday as part of a regional tour of nations that contributed forces in Afghanistan, including Tonga and Australia, said a statement from the New Zealand Defence Force.
Mattis would meet with Minister of Defence Jonathan Coleman and conduct talks with senior officials, said the statement.
Prior to taking command of USCENTCOM, Mattis served as both NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Transformation from 2007 to 2009 and as Commander, U.S. Joint Forces Command, from 2007 to 2010.
His current area of responsibility included the Middle East, Afghanistan and South Asia and his visit provided an opportunity to discuss recent developments in these areas, said the statement.
Mattis arrived the same day as two New Zealand soldiers killed a week ago in an insurgent attack in Afghanistan were laid to rest.
At Afghan orphanage, friends from different sides of the war
Washington Post By Kevin Sieff August 10 , 2012
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Hamidullah, 12, and Rahmatullah, 10, have nearly everything in common. They have the same haircuts, the same blue uniforms, the same jokes, the same notebooks with sailboats and convertibles on the cover.
They sleep next to each other in a big room where a ceiling fan stirs warm air. They eat together and play on the same cricket team. When they get older, they want to be neighbors. They arrived here — bunkmates in southern Afghanistan’s largest orphanage — under the same tragic circumstances.
Just one detail separates the best friends. Their fathers were killed fighting on opposite sides of the war.
Rahmatullah’s father was killed by the Taliban.
Hamidullah’s father was killed fighting for the Taliban.
In this ethnic Pashtun heartland, where vengeance and pride so often dictate action, Rahmatullah and Hamidullah might have been expected to inherit their fathers’ allegiances. Instead, they started fresh, embracing each other.
“No matter what their fathers did, they are friends,” said Sayyid Abdullah Hashemi, the director of Afghanistan’s orphanages. “Our goal for the country is to have the same attitude as the orphans.”
That seems a distant prospect. Afghanistan is full of villages and families that are bitterly divided between the insurgency and the government. Eleven years into the war, efforts to bring the country together through a nationwide reconciliation process have yielded nothing.
But on a much smaller scale, some wounds heal. When men die in Kandahar, it doesn’t matter whether they’re soldiers, civilians or insurgents: Their sons are taken to the same smattering of drab buildings and assigned to the same dorm rooms at Sheikh Zayed Orphanage.
Many of their mothers are alive. But women in southern Afghanistan are seen by many here as being incapable of independently providing for their children. Sometimes, the boys are found wandering aimlessly around bazaars and are picked up by police. Sometimes uncles or cousins drop them off with a quick explanation: “His father is gone.”
They are the sons of police killed in targeted attacks, of Taliban fighters struck down by American airstrikes, of farmers who stepped on improvised explosive devices. Hundreds of attacks every year means hundreds of newly fatherless children. There are 16,700 of them in Afghan orphanages. Of those, 440 are in Kandahar.
They are known as yateem, a particularly pitiable title in patriarchal Afghanistan. Boys without fathers. Orphans.
For years, the boys grieve quietly, scribbling their fathers’ names in notebooks and on the wall next to their beds. They dwell privately on their dads’ allegiances.
Dislodged from their sliver of a fractured province and bound by the same weighted word, they let themselves like one another.
‘We became close very quickly’
Hamidullah arrived in 2009, when he was 9 years old. His understanding of his father’s death is full of vagaries — a terrible event but not something he could explain. A midday firefight and a burial ceremony the next day. That’s all he remembers.
Before being sent to the orphanage, he went to his mother for details. “Who was my father and how did he die?” he asked.
“Your dad was a Taliban fighter,” she told him.
She said that his father, Noorzai, was killed with other combatants in the Arghandab Valley — an insurgent hotbed just beyond the orphanage walls. He had been fighting U.S. and Afghan forces for two years.
Hamidullah wanted more specifics but was afraid to ask for them. He decided not to tell anyone at the orphanage the few details he knew.
Rahmatullah arrived about a year later. His father was an officer in the Afghan National Police. In 2010, after several years working at a local security checkpoint, he was shot and killed by insurgents when he walked out of a mosque. Although no killer was identified, no one doubted that the Taliban had taken down another government employee.
“He was representing the government and security forces when he was killed,” Rahmatullah said.
A few weeks after the killing, Rahmatullah’s older brother drove him to the orphanage, where about half of the boys are the sons of fallen soldiers and police officers. The other half includes a number of boys with familial connections to the Taliban.
Rahmatullah was 8 when he arrived, and Hamidullah was one of the first boys he met. If Rahmatullah had inherited any biases from his father’s slaying, they hadn’t yet congealed. Mostly, he needed friends.
“He was kind, well-behaved and smart,” Rahmatullah said of Hamidullah. “We became close very quickly.”
But the topic of their fathers’ deaths has never come up.
“It is our habit not to talk about this with each other. It’s a sad issue,” Hamidullah said.
‘That’s just how Kandahar is’
The two boys started studying together. They told each other made-up stories and jokes. Every day, they listened when the radio or television in the orphanage blasted the local news.
“Things like 29 dead and 29 injured in bombing,” Hamidullah said.
“Things about the attacks in Kandahar,” Rahmatullah said.
They rarely talked about what they heard, except for Hamidullah’s occasional political commentary.
“There will be fighting until the Taliban are allowed to come into the government,” he said.
The boys still seek to rationalize the deaths of their fathers, even if they express little interest in exacting revenge.
“He was fighting for the government. Defending our country. And I’m proud of that,” said Zulmai, 12, whose father was killed while serving as a bodyguard for Kandahar’s police chief.
“The Taliban he was fighting for — they made mistakes, but they are good people,” said Agha Wali, whose father was killed in an American airstrike while fighting for the insurgency.
Afghan officials worry that the unlikely bonds among orphans could come undone when the boys return to their home villages, surrounded again by those on the same side of the conflict.
Hashemi, the orphanages’ director, estimates that 13 of the Kandahar orphanage’s 30 high school graduates last year might be susceptible to the insurgency’s recruitment tactics. The sons of fallen Taliban fighters have always been easy targets, he said.
“That’s just how Kandahar is. It was the Taliban heartland. There will always be a Taliban presence. They will always look for young fighters,” he said.
For Hamidullah and Rahmatullah, graduation is more than a half-decade away. They have more immediate concerns. Hamidullah has a Pashto exam coming up. Rahmatullah is struggling to learn addition. Every evening, they study together.
They want to be doctors or teachers or something else that doesn’t involve carrying a gun. Their fathers’ jobs, both said, “were too dangerous.” But they’re in no hurry to leave the orphanage.
“We like this place a lot,” Hamidullah said. “Everything we need is here.”
Why Afghanistan Can't Wait
The Huffington Post By Kathy Kelly and Dr. Hakim 10/08/2012
Last week, we spent three anxious hours in an outer waiting area of the "Non-Immigrant Visa" section of the U.S. consulate here in Kabul, Afghanistan, waiting for our young friends Ali and Abdulhai to return from a sojourn through the inner offices where they were being interviewed for visas to come speak to audiences in the United States.
They are members of the Afghan Peace Volunteers and have been invited to travel with the U.S.-Mexico "Caravan for Peace" that will be touring the United States later this summer. We didn't want to see their hopes dashed, and we didn't want to see this opportunity lost to connect the experiences of poor people around the world suffering from war. The organizers of the Caravan envision and demand alternatives to the failed systems of militarized policing in the terrifyingly violent, seemingly endless U.S.-Mexico drug war. They want to connect with victims of war in Afghanistan especially since, as the top producer of opium and marijuana in the world, Afghanistan has a failing war against drugs as well.
It's an unprecedented invitation, at a desperately crucial human moment.
A friendly Afghan woman working there as a security guard suggested that the length of the wait might be a good sign -- perhaps it meant that one of their interviewers had taken a special interest in our young friends' case. This was what we'd been hoping for. Ali and Abdulhai each carried packets containing letters of support from four U.S. Senators and three U.S. Congressional Representatives, along with the summary of a petition signed by 4775 people. Maybe some interviewer was taking time to read the letter from Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Maguire -- and perhaps Ali and Abdulhai had been given a chance to mention that Mairead would be joining them in Kabul this coming Human Rights Day on December 10th for a campaign calling on 2 million friends worldwide to support a cease-fire mediated by the U.N., silencing the guns of all sides currently fighting in Afghanistan.
The kindly guard, at least, was interested to know more about who the boys were. In snatches of conversation throughout the morning, having little actually to do in the United States' fortress of an embassy, she seemed to welcome a slight relief from boredom.
U.S. soldiers inside an adjacent locked office with opaque windows seemed considerably busier, supervising arrivals and departures of construction equipment and machines. The building project going on is apparently part of a massive expansion of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, targeted to have it surpass the embassy in Iraq's capital, Baghdad, as the largest U.S. Embassy -- in the world.
Hoping the best for our two young friends, we were already drafting lines about the worth of friendships -- of bonds of concern and cooperation built across borders -- starting off our thank-you letter to the thousands who had signed our online petition requesting visas for Ali and Abdulhai.
Throughout the three-hour wait, we were intensely curious as to how the interviews were going. How were Ali and Abdulhai conveying everyday life in Kabul's working class "Karte Seh" district, where they tutor former child street vendors whom they've helped enroll in school? How would they convey the life circumstances of the adult Afghan seamstresses for whom they're now providing machinery, a workplace, and a chance at a livelihood free of exploitation by middlemen? The women converse with each other as they work, their voices soft and animated. Throughout the morning hours, for the hours they can find free, they come in and depart, some with the burka veil covering their faces, but all adamant that among the challenges they all face, with many of them enduring serious abuses at home, none are so great as the burden of feeding their families in the chaos and unavoidable poverty of a society stricken by war.
To whom, at this moment, were Ali and Abdulhai describing their principled work? Was the interviewer hearing about the scene every weekday afternoon after school, when about two dozen little children spill into the Volunteers' yard, full of life and joy, eager to learn from their volunteer tutors but already needing Ali and Abdulhai's guidance as they act out the deadly prejudices they acquire from adults. Was the interviewer understanding the vital importance of the mission of the Volunteers, seeking and finding creative ways to persuade a panicked nation to find strength in fellowship within and across ethnic lines, Hazara, Pashto, Tajik, Uzbek or many others?
Do the interviewers -- does their supervising agency -- even want Afghans to find such fellowship? Do they want to add the authority and prestige that comes with travel to visions like that of the Volunteers, determined that ordinary people can overcome traditional fears and hatreds, living together in mutually supportive community without any need for revenge, without the need for weapons, and without the need for the oversight of foreigners engaged in a military occupation?
Our new friend in the office saw them first. "Here come your friends," she said. "Rejected," she added, as we looked at their faces. She and another Afghan guard listened sympathetically as Ali and Abdulhai described their absurdly brief interviews -- they too had spent all but ten minutes of the three hours merely waiting. During those ten minutes, the interviewer had never touched the documents they submitted in their packets.
Abdulhai was informed that he didn't work for the government, that people in Afghanistan didn't know him and that Afghanistan "is in a bad situation."
Ali showed us his rejection letter, and dryly commented that he was sorry they had each spent $160 US dollars, so needed for their work in their communities, as the purchasing price for this souvenir. It merely stated that they were ineligible to receive visas because they didn't demonstrate sufficient evidence, if allowed to leave Afghanistan, that they would return to their dedicated work here.
The stepwise, methodical work of the U.S. Embassy -- of buttressing, of shoring up U.S. interests (always in the sense of U.S. rule) -- will continue behind its growing walls; employing the tools of militarism, exploiting and rewarding the distasteful work of war profiteers, casting a cold eye on any threats, however fanciful, to U.S. security or U.S. comfort, such as independent, uncontrolled grassroots mobilization for peace among ordinary Afghans.
Meanwhile in small ways, real strength asserts itself -- in small work, repeated a thousand fold, by people like the Afghan Peace Volunteers -- in tutoring a crowd of children, in helping a desperate mother win the right to feed her family, in calling on worldwide solidarity behind a U.N.-imposed ceasefire for the U.S. and Taliban -- in small actions we invite the world to emulate the torrent that erodes walls, -- the small acts that together make up the meaning of a life, with which we build an alternative to the lie of exceptionalism, the lie of security, the lie of violence.
Right now, those eager to serve the vision of a peaceful Afghanistan are invited to repeat our victory last month when we turned around the visa rejection for Hakim. We had hesitated, this past week, to flood the embassy with letters supporting Ali and Abdulhai -- but that hesitation is no longer needed. We urge the thousands who believe in the Afghan Peace Volunteers' vision and practice to take simple supportive steps right now, by writing letters, such as can be found at here to the addresses listed there.
Our small steps, together, help us abandon the lie that we can't make a difference. Inside the U.S. Embassy, behind blinding walls and distorting cameras, perhaps officials can't see what we're doing -- they certainly don't seem to see what they are doing -- but we can make ourselves manifest to one another. We have the imagination and the hope to build small things that will become great in their proper time. To build the right things. To see the connections between us growing strong.
So this is that thank you note we were writing in the event that visas had been approved for Ali and Abdulhai. We haven't yet secured a visa for these young men, or won them their right to ride with the Caravan of Peace. It is possible that we won't. But we want to thank you nonetheless, expanding our humble thanks for those who have already helped us, to encompass everyone around us who is taking their part, in ways we cannot see, to build the world that is coming. Thank you. We haven't succeeded yet, and yet "we succeeded beyond their wildest imaginings" -- the imaginings of those fettered by the embassy's walls and the walls of the government directing it. We're still outside, here with the world that's arriving.
We can't wait to build a better world, a world of friends without borders, and Ali and Abdulhai give us yet another dignified reason to explain why Afghanistan can't wait.
Kathy Kelly (firstname.lastname@example.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org)
Dr. Hakim (email@example.com) mentors the Afghan Peace Volunteers (www.ourjourneytosmile.com)
Wounded Afghan sisters find hope in U.S.
CNN By Brian Walker and Jim Clancy August 10, 2012
Charlotte, North Carolina - It began as a celebration but in a terrifying instant became a slaughter. And Fatima and her sisters were caught in the middle of it all.
The suicide blast killed at least 70 people and wounded close to 200 last December. The bomber detonated himself in a street full of worshipers celebrating the Shiite Muslim ceremony Ashura in Kabul.
It was a moment of devastation for Afghanistan - and for one family who had gone to the colorful festival for relief and alms. But thanks to two charities and dozens of dedicated volunteers, the three sisters have not only received medical treatment for their wounds but have been also able to recover from the trauma of the event with a six-week stay in the United States.
Tamima, 11, Fatima, 10, and their sister Gulmina, six, were flown from the desperation of life on the streets of Kabul to the comfortable security of homes in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Before their almost unimaginable journey, the three girls were understandably nervous. They quietly finished packing their small schoolbook bags with a change of clothes and a few mementos. That's all their family could afford to send them on their way. They fretted over each other's hair, trying especially hard to comb out the knots from little Gulmina's shaggy cut.
But finally it was time to say goodbye to everything they knew. Fatima, Gulmina and Tamima hugged their father while their mother, covered head to foot, wished them well with some whispered advice: "Take care of your sisters and remember your ways."
CNN is only identifying the girls by their first names to protect them and their family from possible retaliation by the Taliban.
The horrifying moment of the blast was caught on tape in video obtained by CNN. Among the victims bloodied by the attack were many children, many like Fatima and her sisters who had simply gone to the festival seeking handouts or alms to help their poverty-struck family.
Photographer Massoud Hossaini won a Pulitzer Prize this year for capturing the anguish in the moments after the bomb exploded. From the cover of Time magazine to front pages around the world, all eyes were drawn to the terrified scream of Tarana Akbari, who has come to be known as "the girl in green."
But if you look carefully, you can see Fatima with blood streaming down her face on to her yellow dress and Gulmina is piled among the victims in the background.
UNICEF estimates that there are 50,000 to 60,000 children in Kabul just like the sisters who earn a pittance selling food products and trinkets on city streets. So when thousands of people were crowding the streets to listen to music, eat, socialize and witness the faithful Shia men whip their bodies as a sign of devotion the family saw opportunity both for an exciting day out and a chance to bring in a little money.
The girls have never spoken about the blast outside their family until now. And that came only after weeks of slowly learning to trust the families and their new friends.
"It was after noon...we were in front of the mosque when the bomb exploded and then, the next thing I know, I was bleeding," says Tamima. "Fatima was there, laying on top the bodies of other people."
Gulmina remembers little. "There was a woman behind me, she was screaming. Then I fainted. They took everyone to the hospital and everyone was screaming."
Fatima was in shock from the blast and struggles to explain the minutes after the blast.
"When the bomb exploded, my brother and father were searching for us," she whispers. "There was me and Gulmina and my uncle. But Tamima was lost."
Tamima was wandering, nearly unconscious on her feet, before falling to the ground among the corpses of dozens of other victims.
"A guy came and took me, thinking I was dead," she remembers now. "He zipped me up in a plastic bag and put me down with a lot of other dead bodies."
It was only at that last moment that a U.S. serviceman realized Tamima wasn't dead -- just unconscious and pulled her out of the body bag.
All three sisters were wounded, along with another cousin that lives with them. Tamima was deafened from the blast, the others had nasty gashes and their bodies were peppered with shrapnel.
Hundreds of wounded Afghans flooded into the local hospitals and clinics, quickly overwhelming the ability of doctors and nurses to do anything beyond simply keeping the victims alive.
The girls were hastily stitched up and moved out, leaving huge jagged white scars and bits of bomb fragments scattered through their bodies.
Politically, the mass-scale sectarian attack on Shiite worshipers was unlike anything the country had seen in its decade-long war -- in contrast to Iraq, where violence between Shiites and Sunnis was a major feature of the conflict.
But personally the attack left emotional craters as well. It happened just a short walk from where the charity Skateistan had set up an indoor skateboarding facility where the sisters were among the most frequent visitors - learning English and crafts as well as how to grind a board.
Skateistan's Rhianon Bader said: "I was shocked when the first photo I saw from the blast was of Tamima with blood rushing down her head. We had to do something for them."
The group set about helping the family cope with first the girls' immediate medical needs, and later with surviving the frigid temperatures of Kabul's coldest winter in memory.
With 11 children and many more adults living in the simple mud home -- and only a few windows with glass panes -- it became clear that more needed to be done.
Skateistan was able to raise $4,000 from online donations from around the world to help. They were also able to link up with a specialized charity based in the U.S. state of North Carolina which could really get the medical help the girls needed.
That's where Patsy Wilson picked up. The Charlotte-based executive director of Solace for the Children was in Afghanistan the day of the blast and felt an immediate urge to help.
Solace has been working with Afghanistan since 1997 to bring more than 150 children in need of urgent medical help to the U.S. The charity finds host families and works with hospitals and doctors who volunteer their time and resources to help heal the children.
Wilson says that Solace has found that it's best to bring groups of children to the U.S. for help because of Taliban threats of revenge against families seeking help from western doctors and the danger medical volunteers would face if they went to Afghanistan.
Sometimes it comes up with elaborate cover stories for the families to tell their neighbors back in Afghanistan to explain the missing children. Perhaps it's a son going to study the Quran, or a daughter visiting cousins. But it's all to fool the Taliban.
"We still see the reaction "I would rather see my daughter dead than step foot in America,"" says Wilson. "But more often than not when you appeal to a parent's sense of love for their children and their deep need to see their child healthy and well, they can put aside almost anything."
About one- third of the children are like Tamima and her sisters, suffering from wounds they got from gunshots, IED blasts or, increasingly commonly, acid attacks tied to Taliban insurgents.
In many cases the biggest problem for doctors is that the children usually have far more shrapnel still in them than doctors in Afghanistan are able to find or remove.
Wilson says the medical teams frequently provide cosmetic surgery as well, to mask the disfigurement that is shameful in Afghan culture.
"They lose eyes, they lose hope. They are left with, particularly the girls, huge scars that we can diminish in some cases," Wilson explains. "That becomes so important particularly to the girls because if a girl in Afghanistan is disfigured she's lost a lot of the value to that society and family as a woman and future wife."
Of the group that came to Charlotte this summer, many had never been on an escalator, let alone a flight halfway around the world. And the sisters were apprehensive that for six weeks, each of them would be cared for in a separate home. They had never had a bed of their own or spent a night without a room full of family.
Solace has placed roughly 150 children in host homes in the past five years. They've learned much about how to get families ready to cope with the inevitable culture clashes such as making them aware about Islamic Halal food laws. And no matter how hot it gets in North Carolina the girls won't be wearing short swimsuits.
The charity also told the families not to take the children out to Independence Day celebrations. The fireworks could be far too frightening for many of the Afghan children - who associate sudden explosions in the night with death and not fun.
Lori and Lane West did all they could to prepare their spacious and neat home near Lake Norman for their new little guest Gulmina. The executive with Energizer and his wife have no children of their own, but turned a room in to what they half-jokingly call "a Disney Princess dream land."
Gulmina bonded strongly and quickly with Lori, but it was hard for her to warm up to Lane.
"Many Afghans see Americans as 'the enemy' and girls are taught not to trust strange men," says Lane. "Just look what happened to them at the hands of that bomber. Who can blame them?"
The three sisters had dozens of trips to doctors, dentists, surgeons and physical therapists during their six weeks in the Charlotte area. Gulmina and Fatima were given extensive treatment to help them deal with the pain that still plagues them, and made huge progress.
Tamima had the most care, with surgery to remove tiny shards of shrapnel. Surgeons were able to get most out, but some were too dangerous to cut out and Tamima will have to live with the fragments in her clavicle.
But in the end, the biggest change for the girls may have been the sense of safety and fun they were able to experience in their temporary homes.
Gulmina will take home some of the hot pepper sauce from the local chicken restaurant that she would greedily pour over everything at each meal.
Fatima went on her first boat trip, and loved movies and getting her fingernails painted.
Tamima can laugh about it all now, cracking up as she says: "We got fat! We got healthier!"
In six weeks, they've been able to put behind them much of the physical and psychological damage done that winter's day on the streets of Kabul.
|2012, afghan, august, news|