Remembering the Bombs: Kabul Five Years Later This weekend marked the fifth anniversary of the U.S.-led air strikes in Afghanistan. That war ousted the Taliban's brutal regime. It brought relief to many -- and tragedy to a few. Afghans who lived through it recall the bombing campaign.
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Remembering the Bombs: Kabul Five Years Later

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Remembering the Bombs: Kabul Five Years Later

Remembering the Bombs: Kabul Five Years Later

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne in Afghanistan.


And I'm Steve Inskeep in Washington.

On a Sunday in October five years ago, President Bush spoke to the nation from the Oval Office.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: On my orders the United States military has begun strikes against al-Qaida terrorist training camps and military installations of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. These carefully targeted actions are designed to disrupt the use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base of operations and to attack the military capability of the Taliban regime.

INSKEEP: The president also said the suffering people of Afghanistan will know the generosity of America and our allies.

Over the coming weeks, MORNING EDITION is reporting on what has come of the war and of the promise of better times.

MONTAGNE: Steve, I'm standing on one of the many dusty hills that ring the city of Kabul. On the night of October 7th, 2001, this hill was the first target of coalition bombs. That's because the Taliban had positioned anti-aircraft guns here.

Now I'm holding in my hands one of the bullets that came from one of those guns that we picked up in the dirt. And in this segment, we'll trace the story of the bombing as remembered by the people who lived through it.

(Soundbite of crowd noise)

By all accounts, Kabul passed the day like any other. Children played marbles in the dirt and, careless of the Taliban ban on kite flying, they sent their bright kites up into the air - air electric with anticipation.

It had been nearly four weeks since the September 11th attacks. Now the Taliban government refused to hand over the Arab foreigner, Osama bin Laden. Mirwais Baheej remembers how four elderly men on his street set up a kind of neighborhood news service.

Mr. MIRWAIS BAHEEJ (Resident, Kabul, Afghanistan): Near our house they rent a shop just for sitting there and hearing the news, what's going on. It was very interesting.

MONTAGNE: Wait, they rented a shop...

Mr. BAHEEJ: They rented a shop.

MONTAGNE: Where were they hearing the news, people walking by?

Mr. BAHEEJ: Yes, yes. People walking. They were there, they had their radios, you were hearing the news. It became a center.

MONTAGNE: The Taliban didn't bother with the old men, this at a time when every young man in Kabul seemed to have a tale of harassment or worse. Mirwais Baheej had spent a month in jail for the crime of having long hair. Men were arrested for playing chess or selling ice cream to girls.

During the first week of October 2001, the Taliban were still on every corner but had other things to worry about. They'd long held the Northern Alliance to a frontline a few miles outside Kabul. Now more powerful adversaries were headed their way.

(Soundbite of aircraft engines)

(Soundbite of explosions)

MONTAGNE: This was recorded in a Taliban barracks under attack in Kabul weeks into the bombardment. Shiyan Shiyan(ph) was then a student at Kabul University. He says he and his friends welcomed the bombing.

Mr. SHIYAN SHIYAN (Resident, Kabul, Afghanistan): We welcomed them. And we watched them from our windows, from our houses, and we enjoyed it really. We enjoy because we hope that we must be free from the clout of the Taliban.

As much as the bomb came, we got energy; we got energy day by day. We were going to live free.

MONTAGNE: In October 2001, neither Shiyan Shiyan, Mirwais Baheej nor any of their friends had ever known anything but war, beginning before they were born with the Soviet invasion.

Later, Mujahideen, supported and armed by the U.S. against the Soviets, turned on each other. In the early '90s, rival armies set up launchers on opposing hills and proceeded to rocket the city. Never, says Abdul Manaan Hamdas(ph), bothering to target each other.

Mr. ABDUL MANAAN HAMDAS (Resident, Kabul, Afghanistan): Never, never on target, just on the civilian people. Just they shot civilian people. This was their desire.

MONTAGNE: Abdul Manaan Hamdas had known loss at every turn of Afghanistan's recent bloody history. His two brothers were killed in the civil war that followed the Soviet withdrawal. His father was killed in his village by the Taliban. And most painful of all, his oldest son and daughter were killed when a Mujahideen warlord, fighting the Taliban, lobbed a bomb into their house.

So on that October night that coalition bombers first flew over Kabul, Abdul Manaan Hamdas held close his wife and young twins. Memories of other conflicts, he says, played against the sound of the bombs.

Mr. HAMDAS: So, therefore my family is scared and feared a lot. When the bomb exploded they cried and yelled oh, oh, God, what should we do. So it was very bad time during the conflict between America and Taliban.

MONTAGNE: By the time the coalition launched its bombing campaign in 2001, much of Kabul was already in ruins. And many are quick to mention their surprise at how precise the American bombs were. Still, more than 3,700 civilians were killed around the country during those two months of war.

Among them, eight family members of a woman named Arifa. She tells her story in the bare room she now shares with children she still struggles to feed and clothe. On October 7, 2001, she was living in relative comfort with her husband, a rug maker, and his other wife, plus their combined 11 children. Their house was near the airport. That was a base for the Taliban's air power, such as it was, comprised of well-worn Soviet-era planes. And the airport was the main target of the coalition.

ARIFA (Resident, Kabul, Afghanistan): (Foreign language spoken)

MONTAGNE: Arifa says she wasn't in her home the morning the bomb fell on it. The day before, Arifa's husband had taken her and their five youngest children for safety to a cousin's place in town. As her husband headed back home, he told her not to worry. If it gets bad, he said, we can leave in a hurry.

ARIFA: (Through translator) And he, with my big son and his other big son, rode the bicycle back. And the next day our neighbor came from there and asked me if my husband was with me. I told him no. Then he told me that they all died, and I fainted. Everybody that was in the house was killed.

I myself collected the body parts of my husband. And my husband's other wife, she had a big hole in her back; and one of her daughter's hair and her face were completely burned and you couldn't recognize her.

The tragedy which I had in my life, nobody has this kind of tragedy.

ARIFA: (Foreign language spoken)

MONTAGNE: The bombardment of Kabul lasted into November before the city fell and the Taliban fled. For Abdul Manaan Hamdas, who had lost so many of his own family in earlier wars, it seemed a sudden end to so much pain.

Mr. HAMDAS: I remember one day when I got up early in the morning and I couldn't see any Taliban in Kabul. There wasn't any Taliban. All of them disappeared completely.

MONTAGNE: Five years on, the Taliban are back.

Unidentified Man: (Through translator) We are in danger. We are all the time in danger. If I'm going and checking my house, so if the Taliban catch me they say that you're a spy for the government.

MONTAGNE: Later this week, we travel south to Panjwai. This region outside Kandahar has seen heavy fighting between NATO troops and the Taliban, making it a key battleground for the future of Afghanistan.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: And our coverage from Afghanistan continues on the Web. You can get a look at young people in Kabul wearing their Western clothes in a world that is still very different from ours. You can also explore how this country has changed by hearing Renee's reports from Afghanistan in 2002 and 2004. It's all at

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