October 27, 2021

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‘I By no means Believed That Would Occur’: After 20 Years of Battle, an Abrupt Finish

‘I Never Believed That Would Happen’: After 20 Years of War, an Abrupt End

KABUL, Afghanistan — By the point Ghulam Maroof Rashid’s fiftieth birthday handed, he had spent greater than one-third of his life combating for the Taliban on one battlefield or one other in Afghanistan. He believed they might finally win the conflict however had no concept that this 12 months would lastly be its finish.

“We as soon as thought that perhaps the day would come after we wouldn’t hear the sound of an airplane,” he mentioned this month whereas sitting on the dusty crimson carpet of a governor’s compound in Wardak Province. “We’ve been very drained for the final 20 years.”

Within the final 12 months of the conflict, the Taliban’s lightning military offensive, the collapse of the U.S.-backed Afghan government and the withdrawal of the last American troops, have led to an upheaval as profound because the U.S. invasion in 2001 — two decades ago this month.

Now, former fighters like Mr. Rashid are grappling with governance. A technology of ladies are struggling to maintain a sliver of area in public life. And Afghans throughout the nation are questioning what comes subsequent.

Mr. Rashid’s story is just one within the kaleidoscope of experiences Afghans have shared through the years of the American conflict that formally started on Oct. 7, 2001, when the darkish silhouette of U.S. bombers clouded the Afghan skies.

Since then, a technology of Afghans in city areas grew up spirited by an inflow of worldwide help. However for greater than 70 p.c of the inhabitants residing in rural areas, the lifestyle remained largely unchanged — apart from these caught underneath the violent umbrella of the Western conflict effort that displaced, wounded and killed hundreds.

The New York Occasions spoke to 5 Afghans concerning the sudden finish of the American conflict in Afghanistan, and the uncertainty that lies forward.

A younger intelligence officer with the Taliban within the Nineteen Nineties, Mr. Rashid remembers the assaults on the World Commerce Heart and the Pentagon: “I began farming at first however then turned a trainer within the village college,” he mentioned about his life after the Taliban’s collapse. “Then, we began our jihad.”

Quickly, they had been planting Russian-made mines and selfmade explosive units on the roads, one of many deadliest techniques of the conflict. Mr. Rashid mentioned he primarily fought in Chak, his house district. That district fell to the Taliban about 4 months in the past.

“I keep in mind as a result of we paid the military troopers some cash so they may journey to their houses,” he mentioned. “I didn’t count on that two months later all People would have left and we’d be visiting our associates in Kabul.”

Mr. Rashid has discovered himself as soon as extra within the Taliban authorities. He goes to work on the Wardak governor’s workplace daily, sleeps together with his household each evening and not shudders on the metallic whir of plane overhead.

When the Taliban started its brutal advance throughout the nation this 12 months, Khatera, 34, considered her daughter, simply 14 years previous — the identical age Khatera was when she realized of her impromptu engagement through the first Taliban regime to stave off the opportunity of being pressured to wed a Talib.

“I knew what life would appear to be,” she recalled because the insurgents returned in what appeared like an unstoppable drive. “Feminine season was over.”

She mirrored on the profession she constructed — from a broadcaster at a radio station to the challenge supervisor for a global help group — over the previous twenty years. “I had the pleasure of independence and financial freedom,” she mentioned. “Once I was moving into these doorways, I noticed what life may very well be.”

Within the first few weeks for the reason that Taliban took over, a lot of that freedom is gone. Khatera is afraid to ship her youngsters to highschool. She is afraid to go to her workplace and is aware of that even when she is ready to, she couldn’t return to her previous job. The worldwide help group she works for put a person in her place to speak with the Taliban.

“That is the worst feeling as a lady, I really feel helpless,” she mentioned.

On a latest day in September, Shir Agha Safi, 29, stood in entrance of two Marine navy cops exterior the tent metropolis on the bottom in Quantico, Va., that was now his momentary house. He had been evacuated from Afghanistan this summer time, together with hundreds of others.

“I by no means believed that might occur, that every one of Afghanistan would fall to the Taliban,” Mr. Safi mentioned, despite the fact that he had spent the final 12 months on one of the unstable entrance strains in Afghanistan.

Till Aug. 15, he had been an intelligence officer within the Afghan Military, after becoming a member of the U.S.-backed navy drive greater than a decade earlier.

Each of the Marines, when requested, had by no means heard of Lashkar Gah, the capital of Afghanistan’s southern Helmand Province, the place Mr. Safi had spent months locked in a bloody city battle with the Taliban. A cascade of suicide bombings and airstrikes, each Afghan and American, destroyed a lot of town, leaving lots of of combatants and civilians useless and wounded.

“At the moment we nonetheless had hope,” Mr. Safi mentioned of the battle for Lashkar Gah, which dragged by the summer time as surrounding districts collapsed. “We by no means thought to give up.”

The place Mr. Safi will find yourself after he leaves Quantico is something however clear, although he understands he could be positioned in a house elsewhere in the US.

“Are you aware about Iowa?” he requested.

Abdul Basir Fisrat, 48, has pushed vehicles alongside the Herat-Kandahar-Kabul route for 35 years, however through the twilight months of the American conflict, that path traced the collapse of a lot of the nation because the Taliban swept towards the capital.

The primary district that he noticed fall was Nawrak, in Ghazni Province, about 5 months in the past. He was relieved to see it go: A safety checkpoint staffed by troopers from the earlier authorities used to fireside on his truck, demanding cash to go. After it was seized, he mentioned, “we thanked God that we had been saved from the oppression of the federal government troopers.”

Mr. Fisrat lives in Kandahar together with his household, however he makes the 1,000-mile journey every time there may be work. He has made due with out an schooling and pushed underneath 5 totally different Afghan governments for the reason that Eighties, two of them dominated by the Taliban.

Now Mr. Fisrat, who owns three vehicles, has the potential to pocket what he was paying in hundreds of {dollars} in bribes to the Afghan authorities. Beneath the Taliban, he pays none. It could be a major windfall, if it was not for the worsening economic system that has made journeys fewer and much between. However the lack of combating means he can go the place he needs when he needs: “If I wish to, I’ll go away in the midst of the evening,” he mentioned.

The lifetime of Samira Khairkhwa, 25, encapsulates the good points made for Afghan ladies through the conflict years, and the ambition these advances spurred in a lot of them.

After ending faculty within the north, she discovered her technique to Kabul, the capital, by a program for youth management funded by U.S.A.I.D., and by 2018, she landed a job engaged on the re-election marketing campaign for Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani. From there, she turned the spokeswoman for the state-run electrical firm in Kabul. She had goals of finally operating for president herself.

However because the Taliban pressed their relentless advance over the summer time, Ms. Khairkhwa started to have nightmares. “I dreamed that the Taliban got here to our workplace and our home,” she mentioned. She saved these visions to herself, anxious that telling anybody may make them a actuality.

On Aug. 15, Ms. Khairkhwa was headed to the workplace when she acquired caught within the snarl of panicked site visitors in Kabul. She stopped in a restaurant, uploaded a clip of the chaos that ended up on the information, and made her method house.

“We didn’t imagine that America would go away Afghanistan on this state of affairs,” she mentioned. “That the Taliban would return or that Ghani would give up. However as soon as it occurred we had been shocked.”

Safiullah Padshah and Yaqoob Akbary contributed reporting.

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