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Afghanistan: 'Nato bombs killed my brother's son'

Thousands of people fled Helmand as US-led Nato forces began Operation Moshtarak in Afghanistan – photojournalist Guy Smallman visited refugees to hear their stories

Issue No. 2189

Haji Tor Jan holds up a photograph showing his brother’s dead son, killed by a Nato bomb  (Pic:» Guy Smallman )

Haji Tor Jan holds up a photograph showing his brother’s dead son, killed by a Nato bomb (Pic: » Guy Smallman)

“We are living in filth like beggars—and it is your fault!” screamed Haji Tor Jan.

Although sick and extremely frail, the elderly former Mujahadeen seemed energised by his anger.

For a moment I thought he was going to swing for me.

I explained through my translator that opposition to the war in Britain was the majority feeling and that it was getting stronger.

Haji relaxed and shook my hand, inviting me to sit with him. He reached into his pocket to show me the primary source of his pain.

The photograph showed a small boy lying dead beneath a bloodstained sheet. “This was my brother’s son, killed by Nato’s bombs from the sky.”

“And this,” he said, with tears welling up his eyes, “This was my sister.” There was little left of the middle aged woman lying dead in the photograph.

We were sat in the Qargha road refugee camp on the outskirts of Kabul. The sprawling network of tents and open sewers had grown since my last visit less than a year ago. Nearly 100 homeless families had joined it.

The numbers were now rapidly increasing again as the latest influx of refugees from Helmand were arriving after escaping the fighting in Marjah and Nad-E-Ali.

Most were from the British-controlled area of Sangin.

The fact that they remain destitute says little for Nato’s claims of progress in the area.


Another man wanted me to photograph his arm. A bullet had passed through his hand, smashing the bones and rendering it useless.

“I was returning from a day in the fields,” he said. “I was not armed and the soldier gave no warning. How will I ever feed my family now?”

For a person of little or no education the agricultural economy was his only option. Such an injury was little short of a disaster.

Back in Kabul the first news reports of Operation Moshtarak were beginning to come in.

I was surprised that the operation was meeting little of the expected resistance.

One Afghan friend gave his verdict. “They may be fundamentalists but they are not stupid. They will just appear elsewhere and it is local people who will suffer the most.”

Haji could see no end to the situation. “For 30 years we have had war,” he told me.

“First the Russians attacked us and they achieved nothing. With Nato it is even worse. Our culture is our dignity and it is totally disrespected. We cannot tolerate the US army searching women with dogs.”

The ancient tribal jirga system, where elders gather to discuss issues and agree policy, is far more relevant to people in rural villages than the Afghan government.

“These issues must be resolved through jirgas and discussion with everyone—including the Taliban. Not with bombs and guns,” says Haji.

In Helmand Haji had run a shop selling shoes and jackets.

A month ago he returned home to find his home destroyed by a bombing raid and his brother dead.

He is now looking after his deceased sibling’s seven children.

To make matters worse their tent had burnt to the ground the day before, after a cooking accident.

Such incidents are common with so many people using cheap cookers and heaters in the overcrowded camp.

The family lost what little savings they had and now the children had no blankets to protect them from the freezing weather.

“There is something you must see before you leave,” Haji said. He brought me to a tiny mud brick dwelling a few yards away. The stench inside was unbearable.


Lying in one corner was an emaciated elderly woman. Her skin was stretched tight over her face and she muttered incoherently, shivering under some sack cloth.

“She lost seven of her children and grandchildren in a single day. Just after she came here she lost her mind and it has been a week since she last ate.

“We pray that Allah will be merciful and her end will come soon.”

It will be yet another fatality not counted in this unending war.

A man shows his injuries after being shot in the arm by a soldier  (Pic:» Guy Smallman )

A man shows his injuries after being shot in the arm by a soldier (Pic: » Guy Smallman)

Children peer out from their refugee camp  (Pic:» Guy Smallman )

Children peer out from their refugee camp (Pic: » Guy Smallman)

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Tue 16 Feb 2010, 18:13 GMT
Issue No. 2189
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