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Americans begin to suffer grim and bloody backlash......
by Saima Alvi
25 August 2002 09:23 UTC
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Return to Afghanistan: Americans begin to suffer grim
and bloody backlash
By Robert Fisk
14 August 2002
Internal links

Return to Afghanistan: Americans begin to suffer grim
and bloody backlash 

Robert Fisk: Afghanistan is on the brink of another
The US special forces boys barged into the Kandahar
guest house as if they belonged to an army of
occupation. One of them wore kitty-litter camouflage
fatigues and a bush hat, another was in civilian
clothes, paunchy with jeans. The interior of their
four-wheel drives glittered with guns.

They wanted to know if a man called Hazrat was staying
at the guest house. They didn't say why. They didn't
say who Hazrat was. The concierge had never heard the
name. The five men left, unsmiling, driving at speed
back on to the main road. "Why did they talk to me
like that?" the concierge asked me. "Who do they think
they are?" It was best not to reply.

"The Afghan people will wait a little longer for all
the help they have been promised," the local district
officer in Maiwind muttered to me a few hours later.
"We believe the Americans want to help us. They
promised us help. They have a little longer to prove
they mean this. After that ..." He didn't need to say
more. Out at Maiwind, in the oven-like grey desert
west of Kandahar, the Americans do raids, not aid.

Even when the US military tries to bend its hand to a
little humanitarian work, the Western NGOs
(non-governmental organisations working with the UN)
prefer to keep their distance. As a British NGO worker
put it with devastating frankness in Kandahar: "When
there is a backlash against the Americans, we want a
clear definition between us and them." You hear that
phrase all the time in Afghanistan. "When the backlash

It is already coming. The Americans are being attacked
almost every night. There have been three shootings in
Kandahar, with an American officer wounded in the neck
near the airport two weeks ago. American troops can no
longer dine out in Kandahar's cafés. Today, US forces
are under attack in Khost province. Two Afghan
auxiliaries were killed and five American soldiers
wounded near the Pakistan border at the end of July.

For the NGOs in Kabul, the danger lies in the grey
area, a deliberate grey area, they say, which the
Americans have created between military operations and
humanitarian aid. "Up in Kunduz, they've got what they
call a 'humanitarian liaison team' that has repaired a
ward in a local hospital and been involved in
rebuilding destroyed bridges," the Briton said. "Some
of the men with them have been in civilian clothes but
carrying guns. We took this up with them, because
Afghans began to think that our aid organisation also
carried guns. The US told us their men didn't carry
weapons openly or wear full uniforms out of deference
to the feelings of local tribal leaders. Eventually,
we all had to raise this matter in Washington."

It's not difficult to see the dangers. In Kabul, for
example, the Americans operate an outfit called the
CJCMOTF, the Coalition Joint Civil-Military Operations
Task Force, whose mission, an official US document
says, includes "expertise in supply, transportation,
medical [sic], legal, engineering and civil affairs".
Headquartered in Kabul, it has "daily contact with
[the] US embassy". Their personnel definitions include
"physician, veterinarian, attorney, civil engineer,
teacher, firefighter, construction, management" but
their military experience is listed as "Desert Storm,
Operation Provide Comfort, Panama, Haiti, Somalia,
Bosnia, Kosovo". Then there's the CHLC, the "Coalition
Humanitarian Liaison Centre", at Mazar-i-Sharif whose
objective has been "liaison between assistance [sic]
community and military coalition" and which has
included "rebuilding public facilities, 14 schools,
providing a generator for the airport terminal and
providing a medical clinic, a veterinarian clinic and
a library".

But its tasks also include "security information", a
"channel of communication to coalition commanders, US
embassy and USAID" and, an interesting one, this,
"miscellaneous supplies, eg concertina wire". Somehow,
rebuilding schools has got mixed up with the provision
of barbed wire.

It makes the aid agencies shudder. "I have banned all
coalition forces from my compound and will not meet
with them in public," a Western humanitarian official
told me in Kabul. "If they want to contact me, I tell
them to send me e-mails. I will meet them only in
certain public authority offices. Yes, of course we
are worried that people will mistake us for the
military. They have these 'humanitarian units' and
they ask 'how can we coordinate with you?' but I
refuse to co-ordinate with them. They simply have no
idea how to deal with the social, cultural, political
complex of life here. They are really not interested.
They just want to fight a 'war on terror'. I don't
think they care."

This was no minor official but a Western co-ordinator
handling millions of dollars of international aid. He
knows, as do his staff, how angry Afghans are becoming
at the growing US presence in their country. As long
as Washington goes on paying the private salaries of
local warlords, including some who oppose President
Hamid Karzai, a kind of truce will continue to exist,
but Afghans take a shrewd interest in America's
activities here and their anger has been stoked by US
bombing raids that left hundreds of innocent Afghans

After the Americans bombed a wedding party in Uruzgan
on 30 June – the death toll reliably stands at 55
after several more wounded died – Pashtuns were
outraged at eyewitness accounts of US troops
preventing survivors helping the wounded. They were
especially infuriated by a report that the Americans
had taken photographs of the naked bodies of dead
Afghan women.

An explanation is not difficult to find. For their own
investigation, US forces may well have taken pictures
of the dead after the Uruzgan raid and, since bombs
generally blast the clothes off their victims, dead
female Afghans would be naked. But the story has
become legend. Americans take pictures of naked Afghan
women. It's easy to see how this can turn potential
Afghan friends into enemies.

Now guerrilla attacks are increasingly targeting
Afghan forces loyal to the government or loyal to
local drug-dealers who are friendly with the
Americans. Just as the first mujahedin assaults on the
Russians after the 1980 Soviet invasion tended to
focus on Moscow's local Afghan communist allies, so
the new attacks are being directed at America's Afghan

Even in the Panjshir valley, in Molla, the closest
village to the tomb of Ahmed Shah Masood, the Northern
Alliance commander murdered by two Arab suicide
bombers posing as journalists just two days before 11
September, the local Muslim cleric has been preaching
against the Americans.

One Friday last month, Imam Mohamed Sayed told his
worshippers he had a dream and he had seen the dead
Masood wearing a sad face. "He was not happy," Imam
Sayed told his largely pro-American congregation. "He
said the Americans are like the Russians and that we
must wage 'holy war' against them."

Mercifully for the Americans – for this is largely
friendly, Tajik territory for the United States – Imam
Sayed's audience was largely unmoved. For the moment,
at least. 


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