Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 12 December 2019

Taliban bombing: Anxiety, anger and desperation in jaded Kabul

Citizens in the embattled Afghan capital suffer as the US negotiates with the Taliban

For three hours, Mohammad Asif, 55, sat on the pavement outside the Emergency War and Trauma Hospital in Kabul. He had neither the energy to get up, nor the ability to sit still.

His son was inside, in the trauma ward, fighting for his life after a Taliban bomb tore through Kabul on Monday morning.

"I have only heard from the hospital officials that he is inside and under treatment,” he told The National, crouching near the doors of the hospital, along with several other family members of the many casualties of Monday’s attack.

"They say he is doing OK but I haven’t been able to meet him."

His son is just one of more than 100, nearly half of them said to be pupils, injured in the attack on an Afghanistan Defence Ministry compound.

It also hit the Afghanistan Football Federation’s headquarters and a private school.

Five militants stormed the building after detonating a minibus loaded with explosives, leading to a gunfight that lasted until the late afternoon.

Fifty-five year old Mohammad Asif waits on the pavement outside the Emergency Hospital in Kabul for news of his only son who was injured in a Taliban attack on Monday morning. A mini-bus explosion targeting the Ministry of Defence facility has claimed the lives of at least 34 Afghans and injured many more. Photo by Hikmat Noori for The National
Mohammad Asif, 55, waits on the pavement outside the Emergency Hospital in Kabul for news of his only son who was injured in a Taliban attack on Monday morning. Photo by Hikmat Noori for The National

Mr Asif’s son was working at a restaurant close to the site of the attack. He is his family’s only breadwinner, and the extent of his injuries are not yet known.

Mr Asif faced a frantic search when he heard his son was among the wounded.

“It took me hours to find which hospital, I went to them all," he said between sobs. "And then I came here and I saw his name in this list put up outside the hospital gate. I am waiting to hear more from them."

Someone offered Mr Asif water and food while he waited for news.

Meanwhile, the Afghan army and five militants battled for control of the Defence Ministry building across the city.

“Look around you, hundreds of families are also waiting for their sons,” he said, pointing to nervous families as tears streamed down his face.

They struggled to remain calm but their faces betrayed them.

Along with the anxiety, there was anger.

The Taliban insurgents are in their seventh round of talks with the US administration in Qatar.

“This is injustice. This is killing each other, killing brothers and sisters,” he said, accusing the Taliban, who refer to the Afghan government with same slur, of being "puppets of the American regime”.

“They are meeting the Americans again and they can’t reach a solution. So why is that our fault?

"I want to ask the Taliban, ‘How many American did you kill today? Why are you targeting us? Come here and look around at these are all innocent people.’

"We are Muslims, we are civilians, these are our children. We believe in the one God."

Near by, a senior athlete and an official at the Afghanistan Football Federation, "Mohammed", 35, was comforting families of survivors while nursing his own wounds.

He was at the Federation headquarters close to the attack and was among the employees and players injured.

“We were in a meeting about the coming Afghan Premier League," Mohammed said. "One moment I had a pen in hand jotting down points of discussion, the other moment I was up in the air.

"I fell on a colleague. The whole Federation building was full of smoke. We thought we were the target. It felt like someone was shooting glass at us.”

He is one of the country’s leading sportsmen and a coach to the Afghan futsal team who recently returned from the final of the Under-20 Championship in Iran.

Mohammed has represented Afghanistan in tournaments across the world.

Crowds of family members of victims wait outside the Emergency Hospital waiting anxiously for news of their loved ones injured in the Taliban attack on Monday morning. Photo by Hikmat Noori for The National
Crowds of family members wait outside the Emergency Hospital waiting anxiously for news of their loved ones injured in the Taliban attack on Monday morning. Photo by Hikmat Noori for The National

He was cut by flying shards of glass from the blast. But as soon as he could collect himself, he joined one of the rescue operations that mobilised after attacks.

“At least 50 were injured in AFF itself – men, women, children and elderly,” Mohammed said.

What he saw at the hospital while being treated made his blood boil.

"I just saw a little kid dying inside the hospital right now," he said. "So many injured kids; children in their school uniforms. What sort of peace talk is this?”

Mohammed works with some of the children who were injured in the Taliban attack.

"These kids came from across the country to represent Afghanistan," he said. "They were staying in the AFF dormitory when the explosion happened.

"I went to help them. I brought them here to the emergency gates. No one is hearing our voices. They are deaf to our pleas."

Despite representing his country around the world, Mohammed’s energy is waning.

"I love my country and have passionate feelings to work for it, but after witnessing what I have this morning, I don’t feel like staying here.”

Updated: July 2, 2019 12:02 PM

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