Rebuilding Afghanistan

The conclusion of prolonged wars was an act that I never questioned until I read that the United States was withdrawing from the volatile Helmand province of Afghanistan.

Though it is not a complete stop to the war, the extraction of troops echoes a broader truth: The end is near.

But what will be left of Afghanistan following this withdrawal?

Afghanistan is buried under the rubble of destroyed infrastructure. It is haunted by 13 years of night raids on residential compounds, air strikes and war crimes. Even in the aftermath, Afghanistan will continue to be vulnerable to drone warfare and exposed to the increased presence of terrorism.

Kabul, Steve McCurry
Kabul, Steve McCurry

With these thoughts, a painful realization resonates in my mind: The international community lacks the political will to protect human rights.

Definitive proof can be seen during this war, where some U.S. forces, including the Special Operations Forces, disregard international humanitarian law by failing to minimize human suffering. Exhibit A: The Kill Team.

Such forces are guilty of abuse (most times, with impunity), seen most notably in excessive combat operations that result in the deaths of innocents.

Amnesty International’s report on Afghanistan cited at least 1,800 civilian causalities from 2009-13. But the number doesn’t stop there. Decades of war and violence have also resulted in scores of “uncounted casualties” – civilians who fell victim to the emotional pains of war are now scattered in mental asylums throughout the country.

Jalalabad Mental Asylum, Steve McCurry
Jalalabad Mental Asylum, Steve McCurry

Worst of all, military judicial policies fail to hold the perpetrators of unlawful civilian killings accountable for their war crimes.

Justice, for example, has yet to come to the Sharabuddin family who suffered extensively from a U.S. Special Operations Force night raid on their home in Khataba village.

The result: five deaths, including two pregnant women and a teenage girl.

In the initial aftermath of the raid, the International Security Assistance Force maintained a cover-up that was extolled by top U.S. military officials.

According to AI, this conspiracy claimed “traditional honor killings” as the motive behind the massacre.

However, after journalists uncovered the truth months later, ISAF vowed to apologize and pay compensation to the family.

The apology came in the forms of sheep and money, but access to a fair trial was never granted.

“I want justice. I want the US government to prosecute those responsible for what was done to me. They have taken away our happiness.” – Haji Sharabuddin

A young refugee girl in Fayzabad, Steve McCurry

The U.S. must practice a non-discriminatory respect for all of humanity by not only engaging in reconstruction efforts, but also by consistently holding formal criminal investigations and advocating for reform within the military justice system.

Until we make an attempt to reverse these atrocities, the war in Afghanistan will serve as a symbol of undermining the fundamental freedoms that America’s democracy is supposedly associated with.

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