The Wrong Occupation


In Kabul, Afghanistan’s beleaguered capitol city, a young woman befriended me during December of 2010.  She was eager to talk about her views, help us better understand the history of her country, and form lasting relationships.  Now, she is too frightened to return a phone call from visiting westerners.  The last time I saw her, during the spring of 2011, she was extremely anxious because, weeks earlier, U.S. Joint Special Operations Commandos (JSOC) had arrested her brother-in-law. The family has no idea how to find him. Once, someone working for the International Commission of the Red Cross called the family to say that he was still alive and in the custody of the International Security Assistance Forces, (ISAF).  Numerous families in Afghanistan experience similar misery and fear after night raids that effectively “disappear” family members who are held incommunicado and sometimes turned over to Afghan National Police or the dreaded National Directorate of Security, (NDS).

An October 22, 2011 New York Times report about the findings of UN researchers who interviewed 324 Afghans detained by security forces, found that half of those who were in detention sites run by the NDS told of torture which included beatings, twisting of genitals, stress positions, suspension, and threatened sexual assault.  Of the 324 interviewed, 89 had been handed over to the Afghan intelligence service or the police by U.S./NATO international military forces.

Even though high commanders in the ranks of the U.S. JSOC acknowledge that 50% of the time the night raids and drone attacks “get” the wrong person, (Washington Post, September 3, 2011), the U.S. war planners have steadily escalated reliance on these tactics.

Consider the killing of three brothers in the Nemati family who lived in the Sayyidabad village in Afghanistan’s Wardak province.  Ismail, age 25, and Buranullah, age 23, had returned from their studies in Kabul to celebrate the start of Ramadan with their family in August of 2010. With their brother Faridullah, age 17, they went to the family guest room to study for exams.  They were joined by their younger brother, Wahidullah, age 13.

An initial U.S. military press release on August 12th, 2010, indicated that U.S. forces had captured an important Taliban figure nearby and had taken fire from the Nemati home where they believed Taliban fighters were being hosted as guests. Indeed, two Taliban fighters had stopped at the home two days earlier, asking for food.  Fearful of repercussions if they didn’t feed them, the family had given them food.
According to a report from McClatchy News, (August 20, 2010), the youngest brother, Wahidullah, said that American soldiers burst through the guest room door around 1:30 a.m. and started firing.  As Buranullah and Faridullah lay bleeding to death, Ismail tried to speak with the soldiers in English.  Wahidullah said Ismail was still alive as the assault force led him out of the room, but he wasn’t sure whether all three brothers had been hit during the initial shooting.

Photographs, which the family provided and the U.S. military verified, show three distinct bloodstains on the floor where the U.S. forces shot the brothers.

Later, U.S. military forces admitted that they had no evidence that the man they captured, nearby, was actually a Taliban fighter, and they weren’t able to produce a weapon in the Nemati family compound.

McClatchy News interviewed a friend of Ismail Nemati: “He was not Taliban,” Omid Ali, 21, said in broken English about his school friend. “I want to say to President Obama: Afghanistan doesn’t have hostility towards foreign forces, but, these mistakes, that is how they will be defeated in Afghanistan.”  Another student asked why the U.S. would kill innocent people and young people who are the future of the nation.

Our friend Hakim, coordinator of the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers, writing in the imagined voice of a 10 year old girl from Kandahar, sent us these lines, reflecting on 10 years of U.S./NATO warfare in Afghanistan:

Who says this must be so?

Who cares that this is so?
I shudder that the raids and bombs
have made us less than human.
I wish to go to our deserted schools
to understand why we are like this.

I used to dream of spaces,
blue skies and gentler people.
I heard mother through her burqa
pleading please ‘Stop!’
‘Stop the money. Stop the killing.

Another local explosion,
more international lies.
Our global problem is that
guns impose greater force
than common sense
or vision, which tells me
that my mother’s world is crashing.

If Afghans are ever to rebuild their world, we in the United States must stop afflicting them with U.S. strategies to control their resources, use their land for geopolitical influence, and perpetuate violence as a justification for maintaining 200 U.S./NATO forward operating bases, three major bases, an ever expanding U.S. Embassy designed to become the largest in the world, and three major prisons as well as an unspecified number of detention sites.

“Wars are always futile and counterproductive,” says Dr. Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, a professor and peace activist in Minneapolis, MN. “We attack other people and they attack us back and then we pour money into our military, accelerating our financial decline.”

We’re living in an exciting and hope-charged time as people worldwide are stretching their wings, testing their capacities to confront greed and disparities in political power between haves and have-nots. Many have marched against the Afghan Occupation, against a dictatorship of night raids and shootings, disappearances and checkpoints, a dictatorship- never mind the fraudulently elected local government or how it won its scant power – of the ultimate “have” nation over a nation that has never had less. Protesters’ demands are criticized in the press as being vague and all-encompassing. But I hope the occupiers of town squares and plazas continue sensing and communicating the vastness of the problem while retaining their inspiring power to change it.  Many who are led to protest in the U.S. may understandably want tax reform,  better jobs, higher salaries and more lucrative “occupations” for people. But we have an opportunity to ask even more important questions by seeking work that is truly useful, as well as production of goods and services that won’t serve military causes and won’t be used for war, destruction, and bloodshed.

A statement from the Las Vegas Catholic Worker gathering, issued on the tenth anniversary of the U.S. war in Afghanistan, called on U.S. people to convert our war-based economy to one centered on serving the common good, alleviating poverty and protecting the environment.  “As we hear the cry of the suffering and the poor of our country and world,” the statement says, “we demand that all resources being squandered for weapons and war be instead spent to meet urgent human needs.”

“Occupy Together” efforts proliferating across the world may yet help young friends in Afghanistan find reasons for hope. Innocent youngsters may not be forced to feel that their world is crashing.

Kathy Kelly  co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org). Her book, Other Lands Have Dreams, is published by AK Press / CounterPunch.

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