Civilians caught in Afghan crossfire as families mourn

Tarin Kowt (Afghanistan), April 23 (Inditop) Haji Niamatullah has a treat in store for his children. It is Friday, a holiday in Tarin Kowt, a town in southern Afghanistan. He sends his oldest son, 12-year-old Sahiulla to the nearby bazaar to buy ice cream for the family on this hot summer day.

Hasibullah, 7, wants to accompany his older brother. Niamatullah wonders if the younger one should stay at home, but then decides to let them go.

A short while afterwards, a huge explosion rocks the city. Niamatullah runs outside, looking for his children. When the security officers let him through the barricades at the explosion site about one hour later, he finds his sons – both dead.

On June 15, 2007, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a car in the capital of Uruzgan province. His target was a convoy of Dutch soldiers from the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Timo Smeehuijzen, a 20-year-old soldier, died on that day.

The bomber also killed nine Afghan civilians, among them five children.

Niamatullah’s younger son was ripped apart by the explosion, the 39-year-old recalls. “I almost did not recognise the body.”

Hasibullah’s small body was wound around an electricity pole, the feet were found dozens of metres away. His older son’s body was found at the attack site.

When Hasibullah misbehaved shortly before the attack, his father warned him that he would “go to hell”.

“He answered: ‘No, I will go to heaven and will have my brother with me’,” Niamatullah says. He still has one son and three daughters, his wife is pregnant with another daughter.

The family hails from Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan, and would love to leave Tarin Kowt, which holds that many horrible memories. But the boys are buried here, a memorial in the street was set up to remember the two brothers. “That is the reason why we are still in Tarin Kowt,” says Niamatullah who works as a security adviser for local education authorities.

The Dutch were “very kind” after the attack, Niamatullah says. The killed soldier’s parents sent their condolences and a video of their son’s memorial ceremony. “I know that they are also very sad.”

With a journalist’s help, Niamatullah expressed his condolences to the Dutch family and sent them photos of his murdered children.

He will “never forgive” the murder, he says.

However, for him, not the Taliban, who do not care about civilian casualties in their attacks, are responsible, but the government of President Hamid Karzai, for the deteriorating security situation. “I blame the government,” he says. “Most people are disappointed by Karzai.”

The US, Karzai’s most important supporter, deployed too few troops to Afghanistan after the Taliban’s ouster in late 2001. Back then, their resurgence could have been prevented. “Now 75,000 foreign soldiers cannot bring security.”

Niamatullah wants neither the Taliban nor the Mujaheddin or the Communists back. “But if the situation continues like this, I am sure that the Taliban will win,” he said.

Many Afghans are outraged that ISAF kills people, he adds. Only in February, Australian soldiers in Uruzgan accidentally shot children. “Nobody can accept this.”

Civilians are being caught between the lines in Afghanistan again and again. They die in insurgent attacks as well as during military operations by the foreign troops. Last year, more than 2,100 civilians were killed, the UN said, most of the victims of the Taliban.

Nonetheless, the public’s anger is directed often against the government and the international troops in particular. “There is a big difference,” says Niamatullah.

People expect ISAF soldiers to respect human rights, contrary to the insurgents. “We expect ISAF to do better than suicide bombers.”