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Afghans Reflect On The U.S. Involvement In Their Country

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

We've been hearing a lot about the tragedy and chaos that came with the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Much of the attention has been focused on those Afghans desperate to escape with the Americans. But for many other Afghans across the country, those troops and the U.S. presence had long since worn out their welcome. Emran Feroz is an Afghan freelance journalist. He has written about the harsh reality of America's intervention in Afghanistan. And he joins us now from Germany. Welcome to the program.

EMRAN FEROZ: Hi. Thanks for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Shortly after the U.S. military packed up the Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan this summer, you wrote that the media had, quote, "whitewashed" the war. Can you tell me what you meant by that?

FEROZ: During the withdrawal already, a lot of Western officials, American officials, started to blame everything on the Afghan side. Like, you know, we tried to do our best over there. It didn't work out. Afghan soldiers didn't want to fight. Actually, we tried our best for 20 years, and that's it now. So I had a problem with that because, of course, things were much more complicated on the ground, and Western forces, NATO forces, U.S. military and their allies - of course, also their Afghan allies - they made their hands quite dirty on the ground, especially in Afghanistan's rural areas. We saw how a lot of people have been killed through drone strikes and night raids and many other operations.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What do Afghan civilians that you've spoken to tell you about their experience of the American presence in Afghanistan, especially in areas where there has been conflict?

FEROZ: Yes, for example, a few months ago, I was in Kunar Province in the northeast, where the Americans left years ago. You know, in Kunar, you find the notorious Korengal Valley or the Pech Valley - places where American soldiers lost their lives and were killed. And generally, the U.S. military had a hard time over there. Every person I talked to in Kunar - not all of them - told me majority of them were not Taliban members, but all of them were like, you know, we are happy that these people left because we did not have any positive experience with them.

And actually, the Taliban were able to recruit amongst many locals. And this is something that, you know, is often largely ignored because the focus of American media - not just American media, also European media - was on Kabul and, you know, urban areas that benefited from the military occupation and from the whole war industry and a very small urban elite. And unfortunately, I think that many people thought that these people, this part of Afghanistan, is representing all of it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, are you saying that there is an equivalence between the abuses under the Taliban and what happened with the U.S. military and the abuses under the American occupation because some would say that that's a false equivalence? And, you know, there are U.S. officials who would point to the Taliban's historic rule and say that everything that the United States did was done to protect against a greater evil.

FEROZ: I remember how I interviewed a drone strike victim a few years ago. I think he lost seven or eight relatives in a strike and I think all of his brothers and his father. He himself was in his 50s. And he didn't make a difference between a suicide attack and a drone strike. He said, listen, all of this is violence. But why are so many people just focusing on one side? Why did nobody visit my family, my tribe here in this province and apologize for what happened? And why do these people think that all of us were terrorists or Taliban members because we are not? We were not. But of course, some of us will turn to them because of such (inaudible). For many people on the ground, this wasn't a real difference.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: If you had to use a few words in your view to describe the U.S. military intervention in your country, what would they be?

FEROZ: A total failure without understanding ground realities, the people of the country, the history of the people. I think if the Americans and their allies took these things more seriously and tried, things would have been better.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Emran Feroz is an Afghan freelance journalist. Thank you very much.

FEROZ: Thank you. You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.