Wednesday, 14 August 2002

Americans begin to suffer grim and bloody backlash

By Robert Fisk

The US special forces boys barged into the Kandahar guest house as if they belonged to an army of occupation. One of them wore kitty-litter camouflage fatigues and a bush hat, another was in civilian clothes, paunchy with jeans. The interior of their four-wheel drives glittered with guns.

They wanted to know if a man called Hazrat was staying at the guest house. They didn't say why. They didn't say who Hazrat was. The concierge had never heard the name. The five men left, unsmiling, driving at speed back on to the main road. "Why did they talk to me like that?" the concierge asked me. "Who do they think they are?" It was best not to reply.

"The Afghan people will wait a little longer for all the help they have been promised," the local district officer in Maiwind muttered to me a few hours later. "We believe the Americans want to help us. They promised us help. They have a little longer to prove they mean this. After that ..." He didn't need to say more. Out at Maiwind, in the oven-like grey desert west of Kandahar, the Americans do raids, not aid.

Even when the US military tries to bend its hand to a little humanitarian work, the Western NGOs (non-governmental organisations working with the UN) prefer to keep their distance. As a British NGO worker put it with devastating frankness in Kandahar: "When there is a backlash against the Americans, we want a clear definition between us and them." You hear that phrase all the time in Afghanistan. "When the backlash comes..."

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