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‘There was no America’: The Afghans remember how 9/11 changed their lives

Afghanistan was still reeling from its own Al-Qaeda tragedy when the hijacked planes attacked the World Trade Center. In addition to the assassination of Ahmad Shah Massoud, militants from this group repelled both the Soviet military and the Taliban from his native Valley of Panjshir.

As Afghans dealt with the death of their leader, events unfolded in the United States that would drastically alter the future of their country. For some, however, the significance of the incident passed them by. At that time, Abdul Rahman, a government employee in his twenties, was listening to the news in his living room in which an attack was being discussed in America.

After learning that Al-Qaeda militants hiding in their backyard had orchestrated the attack, and their Taliban rulers had sheltered the group, Afghans realized their world was about to change forever. Abdul Rahman said he didn’t expect America to attack Afghanistan in revenge. Abdul Samad, a librarian in Kandahar, recalls seeing crowds gathered around a newspaper stand, which was covered with images of the twin towers attack. ‘It was almost two days since the incident,’ he told AFP. However, it marked the beginning of an ‘unacceptable occupation’.

After the Taliban refused to turn over Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the US moved in — overthrowing the hardline regime that had held power since 1996 in a matter of weeks. Qiyamuddin, a locksmith from Kandahar, said any hope he had that the American-led invasion would end decades of war and conflict in Afghanistan quickly evaporated.

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AFP reported that ‘they made a mess by coming here. As the war dragged on and the Taliban resurfaced, foreign troops were accused of disrespecting Afghan religion and traditions, and civilian casualties soared. It was an optimistic time and (afghan) refugees from Pakistan and Iran returned’, said Qiyamuddin. ‘They had no idea we would face more stress’. Noorullah recalled watching the attack on an underground television found in a relative’s basement – the Taliban had declared that TV was forbidden to Muslims.

The towers were repeatedly shown ablaze. It looked extremely dangerous. After the Taliban were ejected, there was a brief period of peace, but it wouldn’t last. ‘When the Taliban were gone, the people were happy, they could at least breathe freely,’ he said. However, he ‘began to believe the US had come to the wrong place. It was a trap for them’ 20 years after he had first formed that belief, he told AFP that he ‘had been right’. ‘Taliban are back. The same people, faces, and attitude are back’, he said.


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