If anyone wants to understand the shame of Afghanistan – the yearly cull of civilians, the beheadings, the execution by single shots, the kidnapping of women – they have only to read the shocking UN report just published in Kabul.
It is laced with fearful eyewitness descriptions of brutality. Isil features in its 87 pages with its usual depravity – in Afghanistan, of course, not in Iraq or Syria – and the report’s statistics show clearly that, last year, there were more civilians killed or wounded in the country than in any year since 2009.
In 2015 alone, 3,545 civilians were killed and 7,457 injured. Since 2009, the total civilian dead – not soldiers, militiamen or Taliban – comes to 21,323. And this is the graveyard of empires into which we blithely trod after 9/11 on the basis that we would not “forget” Afghanistan again. We would see it through to the end. Our soldiers would not die in vain. And it has come to this.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (Unama) is a very professional institution. It has rigorously examined eyewitness testaments and its new report contains harrowing quotations from victims of the country’s war. In total, 62pc of civilian deaths and injuries were caused by “anti-government elements” and 17pc by “pro-government forces” – 14pc of these by the US-trained Afghan National Security Forces.
But, for reality, take this quotation from the father of a man killed by Afghan army shelling in Wardak province: “It was around 8am, and we had finished breakfast at home when I heard an explosion…When I arrived, I saw one injured person and many bodies. Then I found my son. He was in the final moments of his life … I could not even touch his body or move him. The explosion killed eight people … Can you imagine how difficult it is when your son is lying in his own blood and you are crying for him?”
Or this, from a woman wounded in a suicide attack in Kabul city: “After I had fed my baby and put him back to sleep, I took a sip of water and returned to bed. There was a huge explosion and our roof began to collapse. I saw the roof falling on me and I lost consciousness. When I opened my eyes, I saw that my hands, legs and back were bleeding … After 20 minutes, I heard my husband shouting over and over again: ‘Where are the others? My father, my father.’ The blast seriously injured him and my son. My brother-in-law lost both of his eyes. We are a poor family and have lost everything.”
Unama confirmed that Isil forced the closure of 25 educational institutions in Deh Bala district, depriving 14,102 students of education and 341 teachers of work. Here, then, is Isil at work, just as it operates in Iraq and Syria. Unama also noted an increase in the targeting of hospitals, clinics and health personnel.
There are accounts of Taliban fighting Isil and government militias fighting each other.
I have long nursed the suspicion that many of these groups, including some Taliban units and even Isil – let alone the government militias – are not fighting about religion or government at all, more about mafia power.
Afghanistan, I fear, is Mafiastan, fuelled by the billions the US and UK ploughed into this poor country after 2001.
An Afghan told me only a couple of days ago how government army students were watching an American military trainer teach them how to shoot an automatic rifle. “The problem was that the students knew much more about shooting than the American. They grew up with automatic weapons in their hands. The only reason they joined was to get knapsacks and free uniforms.”
The same old story. Incompetence, money, grief and pain. Unama’s report is first rate. And it brings individual tragedy into a brief, bright and disturbing light. But, yes, this is the country we were going to “save” a decade and a half ago.