The story of the faceless girl

AFGHANISTAN/USA. This feature contains a picture of Afghan girl Aisha, 4. published at  EXPRESSEN Sweden 

Image
It was on 7th September last year that an American drone hit the car she was travelling in. Everyone died – everyone except Aisha. by Terese Cristiansson

At the same time it is an important image, as it shows a side to the war on terrorism that the US does not want the world to see.

It was on 7th September last year that an American drone hit the car she was travelling in. Everyone died – everyone except Aisha.

After receiving treatment in a hospital in Kabul, one day she was suddenly missing. Not even Aisha’s family were told what had happened.

Expressen’s Terese Cristiansson decided to try and find the answer to the question,

Where did the faceless girl go? 

Aisha, 4, was used to seeing the American birds soaring above the village. She knew that they were dangerous, her mum and dad had talked about it. On the 7th of September 2013, she became one of the birds’ victims.

Meya Jan is at home on his farm in the village of Gamber when he receives a phone call from the neighbouring village. “Did you hear that a car has been hit on the road to Gamber?” asks his neighbour.

Meya Jan feels a knot building up in his stomach. Did his sister, Taher, and her husband, Abdul Rashid, make it out in time with their children Aisha, 4, and Jundullah, 1?

They had been in Kabul because Taher had been having pregnancy troubles and should be on their way home. He hopes that they stopped for a break in Asadabad, capital of the Kunar Province on the border to Pakistan.

It’s the 7th of September but it is still hot, and they are likely to have stopped with some relatives for a rest. They aren’t answering their mobiles, so he calls his relative, Hasrat Gul, who is in Asadabad.

“Do you know who drove up here today?”

“Yes, Abdul Rashid drove off earlier with Taher, the children and several other relatives that were going that way,” he replied.

It’s the beginning of October 2013 and the article we have come to write in Jalalabad in Eastern Afghanistan has fallen through. But as there was a lot of talk at the time about children being injured when they were forced to plant roadside bombs, we decide to visit the city’s hospital instead.

Doctor Humayoon Zaheer says he hasn’t had any such cases. Instead he starts talking about other people they have treated. Dismembered policemen, children with gunshot wounds from battle crossfire and women who have died in childbirth. He shows us round the hospital telling us about everything they need to be able to provide the best treatment.

Once inside his simple office he suddenly says,

“We had another case here. She came in a couple of weeks ago, in September. A little girl who had lost her face in a drone strike. It was a very unusual case. I’ll never forget it.”

Meya Jan and the other villagers rush off down the road towards the site of the strike. People from the neighbouring village have already started gathering. It is late afternoon, but the September sunshine is still baking the green velvety mountains.

Meya Jan immediately sees that it is Abdul Rashid’s red car that has been hit. The bombs have carved big chunks out of the ground and there’s not much left of the car. Body parts lie scattered around the car.

A man from the neighbouring village says that they had seen a drone circling the area. The Kunar Province has long been a stronghold for the Taliban, Hezb-e-Islami and al-Qaida alike and the area has seen a lot of bloody battles. Most US bases are now deserted and there are few soldiers about. They have been replaced by drones – unmanned planes. The villagers call them ”American birds”.

The neighbour who saw the strike says that it first dropped two bombs and when the injured attempted to flee from the car, it dropped three more. Nobody survived, he says.

Around him on the ground Meya Jan recognises his family members, several women and children. There is blood everywhere and several of them are completely dismembered. He is filled with rage.

When the US troops arrived in 2001, a lot of Afghans believed that the US would come and help them. The country was divided after the Russian occupation, which was followed by a bloody civil war and the brutal Taliban regime. They had hoped that the country would be made stronger. But the opposite happened in Kunar.

Every time they tried to drive anywhere, they were stopped by US soldiers. Several family members had been arrested and later released. Because of the soldiers, the Taliban planted dangerous roadside bombs along the roads.

There may never have been a school for the children, but at least they used to sit under a large tree and learn to read and write. Ever since the drones began to circle overhead, they have been too scared to even sit there anymore. Yet another generation without an education. Everyone was caught between the two conflicting sides.

Meya Jan and the others begin lifting the body parts and mangled bodies into a car. They drive them home to the courtyard and line them up in order to wrap and bury them.

15 dead, 3 of whom are women and 4 are children:

Abdul Rashid, 26, Taher, 24, Aisha, 4, Jundullah, 18 months, Abdul Rahman, 28, Khatima, 45, Nadia, 26, Soheil, 3, Osman, 19, Abdul Wahid, 25, Amir, 4, Asadullah, 28, Hayatollah 28, Abdul Wahid, 36, and Mohammad Ullah, 16.

Wiped out. Gone. Dead.

Suddenly they hear a voice.

“Water, water…”

Read the full future here  in EXPRESSEN Sweden 

Av Terese Cristiansson Av Terese Cristiansson
terese.cristiansson@expressen.se

Suicide vest nine-year-old tells her story

Spozhmai's father visited her to try to persuade her to come home
Spozhmai’s father visited her to try to persuade her to come home

A young girl was detained at a checkpoint in southern Afghanistan wearing what officials said was a suicide vest. Spozhmai, who says she is nine years old, is now in the protective custody of the provincial government. This is her story in her own words.

It was late evening, the mullah was calling for prayers and my brother took me outside and told me to put on this vest. He showed me how to operate it, and I said: “I can’t – what if it doesn’t work?” And he said: ‘It will, don’t worry.’

I was scared and he took the vest back from me and he hit me hard, and I felt scared. Then [he gave me back the vest and] left me near the checkpoint where he said I had to operate it.

I realised it was a suicide vest because it was heavier than a normal one.

He said: “If you operate this on the people at the checkpoint, they will die – you will not die.” But I knew it was a suicide vest and I would die too. Then he went back home – the checkpoint is just near our house.

After my brother left me… I slept in the desert and didn’t see anyone that night.

In the morning, a guy from the checkpoint came and took me to the checkpoint and said: “You need to tell your story to our commander.” They found me, I didn’t find them.

When I told the commander my story he told me to go back home and I said: “No, they beat me there and I am no

t treated well.”

He said: “OK, well if you’re not going home then we have to take you to the provincial capital.” That’s when they brought me [to Lashkar Gah and] I spoke to another commander, the senior commander, and that’s how I come to be here.

Even if the government says it will guarantee my safety I am not going back – the same thing will happen again. They told me: “If you don’t do it this time, we will make you do it again.”

My father came here and told me to go back and I said: “No, I will kill myself rather than go with you.”

I don’t have a mother, I have a stepmother and she was not very nice to me.

I did everything at home. I cooked, I made bread, I washed clothes, I cleaned the whole house and they still weren’t happy – they would treat me badly, as if I was a slave.

I didn’t go to school because they didn’t let me. I can’t read a word, I can’t pronounce anything. It’s because I wasn’t taught – nobody taught me how… of course I want to go to school.

My brother told me: “You’re here in this world and you will die. You are not here to learn or to do other things or to expect that your word will carry any weight. You are here just to die and do your duty.”

Of course my Dad knew – they were all in it together. [This started with] my Dad first, and then my brothers were inclu

ded. They were all in it together.

I haven’t spoken to [my brother] since the incident – I haven’t seen him since.

I want the government to let me stay here and not make me go back, otherwise the same thing will happen to me again.

What can I say to [my family]? Even if I saw them again I would tell them: “I am not coming home. I am not coming with you.”

I have seven sisters and five brothers – three of my sisters are married and the others are little.

spozhmai

One of my brothers is in the Taliban so I have never seen him, one of my brothers is married, and another one – a younger one, is the one who told me to do this. I can’t tell his age but he’s a big boy and has a beard.

“Dozens of teenage boys who wanted to carry out suicide attacks have been arrested over the past few years, but Spozhmai is the first “would-be female child suicide bomber” in the country held in protective custody,” says Dawood Azami of the BBC World Service.

 

“Initially, it emerged she was arrested at night when the police heard her crying on the other side of the river where she says

she was forced to wear the vest. Then it was said she was arrested at home. But now, she says she spent the night outside on her own and was found by the police in the morning.

“It was first reported that she was wearing a suicide vest at the time of her arrest. But later it emerged that she was not wearing it and her handlers fled with the vest. Her age is also a question of debate. The first official version said she was eight. Other officials later said she was 10. But now she says she is nine.

“The Taliban have rejected all the allegations, calling them ‘part of the usual propaganda campaign to defame them’. And they regard the appointment of children, especially girls, in their ranks as wrong.”

Spozhmai spoke to Newsday on the BBC World Service.

Afghanistan: Worsening violence against children in Afghanistan

Children right

KABUL, 21 June 2013 (IRIN) – One of the victims of last month’s attack on the International Organization for Migration (IOM) compound in the Afghan capital is still to be identified – a six year old boy.

The child’s body, found near the attack site, has not been claimed and the police have not been able to find the boy’s parents.

As a result of the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, the number of child casualties in the first four months of 2013 was 414 – a 28 percent jump from the 327 last year, according to the UN Secretary-General’s Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict. Of the 414 child casualties, 121 were killed and 293 injured.

“Afghanistan remains one of the world’s most difficult and dangerous places to be a child,” UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) spokesman Alistair Gretarsson told IRIN.

From 2010 to 2012, the UN report says 4,025 children were killed or seriously wounded as a result of the conflict in Afghanistan.

Child casualties for the country totalled 1,304 for 2012. However, the reported 28 percent increase in child casualties in the first four months of this year is fuelling concern that 2013 could be one of the deadliest years yet for children in Afghanistan.

“Every day when I leave the house, my Mum worries about us,” said Mohammad Qayum, a 14-year-old boy selling gum on the streets of Kabul. “There are more attacks in Kabul and my friends working on the streets are also scared. We are a lot more scared than we used to be.”

Continuing a trend from recent years, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are still the leading killer, contributing to 37 percent of the 414 conflict-related child casualties.

Children caught in crossfire made up 20 percent of the child-casualties; “explosive remnants of war” – 18 percent; with the remainder attributed to other causes.

According to UNICEF, the armed opposition accounted for most of the attacks. However, the Taliban, just one of many armed opposition groups in the country, deny the claim.

Indirect victims

Aside from being physically caught up in the violence, children suffer in a variety of ways from the conflict – from disrupted education, to forced recruitment as child soldiers, to the loss of family members.

Qayum’s father died in a suicide attack six years ago. He has three sisters and one older brother; so the US$4 he earns a day selling gum and flowers on the street is essential.

While the government and armed opposition groups, particularly the Taliban, have laws and regulations prohibiting the recruitment of children as fighters and suicide bombers, both continue to do so.

Ali Ahmad, 12 at the time, was searching for a job at the Spin Boldak border when he was abducted.

“They took me to a training centre and trained me for 20 days. They taught me how to use guns and weapons and also taught me how to do a suicide attack by pressing some button and telling me that I will be given a lot of money,” Ali told IRIN.

Findings from the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) 2013 torture reportshow of the 105 child detainees interviewed, 80 (76 percent) experienced torture or abuse at the hands of Afghan security forces – a 14 percent increase compared to previous findings.

Sexual abuse

Children described being beaten with cables or pipes, being forced to make confessions, being hanged, having genitals twisted, death threats, rape and sexual abuse. Of all the violations against children in Afghanistan, sexual violence remains one of the most under-reported abuses.

“Although sexual abuse of both boys and girls is a crime under Afghan law, the sexual abuse of boys continues to be tolerated far too often, especially when it takes place in association with armed groups where families of the children involved have no real recourse,” Heather Barr of Human Rights Watch told IRIN.

Bacha-bazi – the practice of “owning” a boy for sexual purposes, usually by people with money and power such as government officials and militia commanders – rarely receives attention.

“The reality is that it is very widespread and it’s very prevalent in the Afghan society. It’s something that Afghanistan as a society is not able to discuss openly. The society is not ready to face that this problem exists and something has to be done,” said one analyst who asked not to be named.

Last year in southern Helmand Province several cases of rape and abuse were exposed. A district governor was found keeping a 15-year-old “boy”, whose identity was only highlighted after he killed an international soldier.

Conflict-related violence continues to hinder children’s access to education. Most violations such as the burning of schools, intimidation and threats against staff are reportedly the result of armed groups. However, schools are also used by pro-government forces to carry out operations.

As a result of the growing violence across the country, more and more youth are seeking a way out.

“Unfortunately the number of young people leaving the country today is increasing,” Gen Aminullah Amarkhel, head of Interpol, told IRIN in a recent interview.

According to a UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) report released this week, Afghanistan is one of five countries that make up 55 percent of the world’s 45.2 million displaced people. One in every four refugees is from Afghanistan, making it the world’s largest contributor.

Children under 18 make up 46 percent of refugees worldwide. A record number of asylum seekers submitting applications in 2012 came from children, either unaccompanied or separated from their parents.

Conflict is the main cause, said the report.

“As the Qatar office opens and formal negotiations between the government and the Taliban perhaps finally start,” said Barr, “issues like protection of civilians and protection of children should be the first thing on the agenda”.

Source: IRIN