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‘I never believed this would happen’: After 20 years of war, an abrupt end

Kabul, Afghanistan – By the time Ghulam Maroof Rashid passed his 50th birthday, he had spent more than a third of his life fighting for the Taliban on some battlefield in Afghanistan. He believed that he would eventually win the war but had no idea that this year would end.

“We once thought that maybe the day would come when we wouldn’t hear the sound of airplanes,” he said as he sat on the dusty red carpet of a governor’s compound in Vardak province this month. “We’ve been very tired for the last 20 years.”

In the last year of the war, Taliban’s Lightning Military Attack, Fall of the US-backed Afghan government And The withdrawal of the last American troops, the US invasion in 2001 has brought about profound upheaval – two decades ago this month.

Now former fighters like Mr. Rashid are battling the regime. A generation of women is fighting for a place in public life. And Afghans across the country are wondering what will happen next.

Mr. Rashid’s story is only one of a kaleidoscope of experiences that Afghans have shared over the years of the American war that officially began on October 7, 2001, when black silhouettes of American bombers covered the Afghan skies. Were.

Since then, a generation of Afghans in urban areas have been buoyed by the influx of international aid. But for more than 70 percent of the population living in rural areas, the way of life remained largely unchanged – except for those caught under the violent umbrella of the Western war effort, which displaced, injured and killed thousands.

The New York Times spoke to five Afghans about the abrupt end of the US war in Afghanistan and the uncertainty ahead.

A young intelligence officer with the Taliban in the 1990s, Mr. Rashid recalls the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon: “I first started farming but then became a teacher in a village school,” he said about his life. said. Fall of Taliban. “Then, we started our jihad.”

Soon, they were planting Russian-made mines and homemade explosive devices on the streets, one of the deadliest tactics of the war. Mr Rashid said he fought mainly in his home district, Chak. About four months ago that district came under Taliban control.

“I remember because we had given some money to the army men so that they could travel to their homes,” he said. “I didn’t expect that after two months all Americans would be gone and we would go to visit our friends in Kabul.”

Mr. Rashid has once again found himself in the Taliban government. He goes to work at the Wardak governor’s office every day, sleeps with his family every night and no longer trembles from the metal clatter on the top of the plane.

When the Taliban began their brutal advances across the country this year, Khatera, 34, thought of her daughter, who was just 14—the same age Khatera, when she was faced with the prospect of her sudden engagement during the first Taliban regime. was found to be removed. Being forced to marry Talib.

“I knew what life would look like,” he recalled as the rebels withdrew like an unstoppable force. “Women’s season was over.”

He reflected on the career he had built over the past two decades – from a broadcaster at a radio station to a project manager at an international aid organization. “I had the joy of freedom and economic freedom,” she said. “When I was going in those doors, I saw what life could be like.”

In the first few weeks since the Taliban took power, much of that freedom has been lost. Khatera is afraid to send her children to school. She is afraid to go to her office and knows that even if she is able, she cannot return to her old job. The international aid organization she works for hires a man in her position to communicate with the Taliban.

“It’s the worst feeling as a woman, I feel helpless,” she said.

On a recent day in September, 29-year-old Shir Agha Safi stood in front of two Marine Military police officers outside Tent City at the base in Quantico, Va., now his temporary home. He was evacuated from Afghanistan this summer along with thousands of others.

“I never thought that would happen, that the whole of Afghanistan would fall into the hands of the Taliban,” Mr. Safi said, even though he had spent the last year on one of the most volatile fronts in Afghanistan.

By August 15, he was an intelligence officer in the Afghan army, joining a US-backed military force more than a decade ago.

When asked, the two marines had never heard of Lashkar Gah, the capital of Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province, where Mr. Safi had spent months in bloody urban fighting with the Taliban. Suicide bombings and airstrikes, both Afghan and American, devastated much of the city, killing and wounding hundreds of fighters and civilians.

About the fight for Lashkar Gah, Mr. Safi said, “At that time we still had hope.” “We never thought of surrendering.”

It is also unclear where Mr. Safdie will end up after leaving Quantico, although he understands that he may be housed elsewhere in the United States.

“Do you know about Iowa?” He asked.

Abdul Basir Fisrat, 48, has driven trucks on the Herat-Kandahar-Kabul route for 35 years, but during the twilight months of the US war, that path traced the collapse of much of the country as the Taliban swept toward the capital. .

About five months ago, they saw a decline in Navrak district of Ghazni province. He was relieved to see it go: a security post deployed by soldiers of the previous government opened fire on his truck, demanding money. After confiscating it, he said, “We thanked God that we were saved from the persecution of government soldiers.”

Mr. Fisrat lives in Kandahar with his family, but travels 1,000 miles whenever there is work. They have made bailouts without education and have operated under five different Afghan governments since the 1980s, two of them ruled by the Taliban.

Now Mr. Fisrat, who owns three trucks, has the ability to pocket what he was paying the Afghan government in bribes of thousands of dollars. Under the Taliban, he makes no payments. This would be a significant force majeure, if it were not for the deteriorating economy that has made visits few and far between. But the lack of fighting means he can go wherever he wants: “If I want, I’ll leave at midnight,” he said.

The life of 25-year-old Samira Khairkhawa encapsulates the gains made for Afghan women during the war years and the ambition many of them have to move forward.

After finishing college in the North, she found her way to the capital, Kabul, through a program for youth leadership funded by USAID, and as of 2018, she is expected to work on the re-election campaign for President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan. got the job. From there she became a spokesperson for the State Electric Company in Kabul. She eventually had dreams of running for president herself.

But as the Taliban made their relentless progress over the summer, Ms Khairkhawa started having nightmares. “I dreamed that the Taliban came into our office and our house,” she said. He kept those dreams to himself, worried that telling someone they might come true.

On 15 August, Ms. Khairkhawa was on her way to the office when she got caught in a panicky traffic trap in Kabul. She stopped at a restaurant, uploaded a clip of the chaos that ended on the news, and went to her house.

“We did not believe the US would leave Afghanistan in this situation,” she said. “The Taliban return or Ghani surrenders. But once it happened, we were shocked.”

Safiullah Padshah And Yakub Akbari Contributed reporting.

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