Like many thousands of Afghans, Shooora Amiri had gone to the airport hoping to board a flight to Turkey, but little did she know what fate had in store for her. The blast left her with a near crippling leg injury and she is still numb from what she saw unfold in front of her.
Shoora (26), a young women’s rights and democracy activist, escaped the twin blasts near the Kabul airport on Thursday evening, by a whisker. She found herself covered with human flesh, scattered all over her clothes, which has created a deep sense of disillusionment and fear. Many others like her are now stuck in their homes unable to decide whether to go to the airport again or surrender to the Taliban rule.
Having known her personally during many workshops and trainings on democracy building work in Afghanistan, she is a fighter like most Afghans who have been part of the democracy restoration process. “I will not give up,” she says, even as she admits that what she saw on Thursday evening will continue to haunt her for many months and maybe years.
The first bomb exploded exactly 15 metres from where she stood, near the Abbey gate of the airport. “It was so loud that for a minute I thought the earth was moving fast and ringing loudly,” she says.
As she saw human body parts flying in the air and people running to save their lives, she sat on the ground to avoid getting trampled. Mustering enough courage, she looked up after a while and what she saw sent her into a state of shock from which she is yet to recover. “Hundreds of bodies were lying in the water canal and on the grounds near the gate, and women were wailing with blood all over their face.”
A Hub of Terror?
The blast at the Hamiz Karzai International Airport in Kabul has killed at least 170 people, which includes 13 US service members and over 100 Afghans. The airport blast was followed by another blast that took place outside the Baron hotel, which is located close to the airport. The Pentagon has said that 18 US servicemen were injured. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack, carried out by the organisation’s affiliate in Afghanistan, the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP). Pictures of a member of IS-K called Abdul Rahman al-Logari appeared on social media who the Islamic State’s official Amaq news agency said was responsible for carrying out “the martyrdom operation near Kabul airport.”
The attack marked the deadliest day for the US military in Afghanistan since 2011. According to Al Jazeera, this was the worst single-day loss for American troops in Afghanistan after the one inflicted on the US forces on August 2011 when an attack on a US Chinook helicopter killed 30 service members.
The attacks have now sent the US and other countries into a frenzy with doubts being cast over the possibility of completing the evacuation operations by August 31. “That looks tough now after what happened on Thursday, the fast-changing security situation, and with thousands of US citizens and others who worked for the US companies and with the military still stranded,” said Danish Karohkel, Editor of Pajhwok News.
US President Biden, however, has vowed to complete the evacuation. On Friday, the US military forces launched a drone strike against the ISKP in Nangahar province of Afghanistan and “killed the target”.
However, many Afghan analysts feel that the US is making the same mistakes again. Several security analysts that this writer spoke to were of the opinion that instead of seeking revenge and risking more lives during evacuation, “it (US) has to think of an alternative plan to ensure that the evacuation process can be extended under better and enhanced security measures.” According to Karohkel, the “risk of terror attacks”, which Biden played up to G-7 leaders to stick to his stand of not extending the withdrawal beyond the set timeline, “does not become any less even after the US withdrawal.”
“Afghanistan soil will become the hub of terrorism and this will be exported everywhere and the US knows it too well,” said Karokhel. Another senior editor of a leading Afghanistan news publication without wanting to be named asked, “Can it guarantee that a 9/11 like event won’t happen again?” Many others believe that warnings emanating from the White House like “we will hunt you down and make you pay” will only spell more trouble for the people of Afghanistan.
A Chaotic Withdrawal
The likes of Shoora feel that the present situation is “a creation of the US.” She has worked under US projects and has a NATO visa, and she is grateful for that, but that does not change the reality on the ground. “What happened on Thursday is all because of how the entire thing has been planned,” she says angrily.
People literally piled on top of each other trying to make way to the airport gate are the images that we have all become familiar with by now. “But think of it when soldiers make fun of you even after you show them your papers,” says Najiba, who stood alongside Shoora near the Abbey gate. The drill at the airport apparently starts with a “special flag” being shown by the US soldiers, an indication that people with proper documents would be taken inside the compound. Those with papers are asked to first raise their right hand, if the soldiers don’t respond, then raise the left hand, and after that both.
“We had papers sent to us by NATO last night. We showed these papers with the NATO logo and also raised our hands, but the soldiers paid no attention. When we screamed, they started laughing,” Najiba recalls. Maybe if people with documents were allowed to get in some lives could have been saved.
For the likes of Shoora and Najiba and hundred others who have worked closely with the US projects and also followed the developments in the country for over a decade, “even the way the chaotic evacuation is happening looks part of a plan.” Though that is most likely an emotional outburst from the sheer pressure of frustration and anger, it does bring to fore the bigger unanswered question yet again—why the untidy and chaotic withdrawal? Could it not have been prevented? Besides, over 2000 US forces are still on the ground and the CIA is constantly monitoring the developments.
Feels Like a Betrayal
For women carrying children with them, it has been a nightmare, an experience they wouldn’t want anyone else to go through. Citizens wanting to leave Kabul have been made to wait in knee deep sewage water as the situation outside the airport worsened by the day. Those trapped between the soldiers and the Taliban at the gates are not sure what else they have to endure.
How would you feel when your legs are in front and body is far behind and you are forced to remain in that position for over 9-10 hours? This is exactly how Shoora described her experiences during the past one week. Many are feeling breathless and becoming weak. Let’s also not forget the risk of the COVID-19 infection to all the people who are gathered at the airport.
With an injured leg, Shoora is not able to go out for treatment—there is, of course, the fear of the Taliban.
She does not have enough money because the Taliban have closed all banks. She is also overcome with trauma. This is possibly what many other women and men are going through right now, with scanty resources and no access to proper medical attention.
India has unequivocally condemned the terrorist strikes and said that these attacks reinforce the need for the world to stand unitedly against terrorism and all those who provide sanctuaries to terrorists.
While the international community is already engaged in bilateral and multi-lateral meetings, strategizing security plans, for the average Afghan, the developments since the Taliban takeover and the massacre of humanity in Kabul may look like “a betrayal” as Caretaker President and the leader of the Panjshir resistance movement Amrullah Saleh has said.
Names of the affected women activists have been changed for their security.
The author is a former senior journalist and an expert on international affairs focused on elections and governance. He has spent considerable time in Afghanistan. He can be reached at email@example.com