The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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October 7, 2012

Afghan war enters 12th year

KABUL, Afghanistan — Nobody wants a repeat of the bloody ethnic fighting that followed the Soviet exit from Afghanistan in the 1990s — least of all 32-year-old Wahidullah who was crippled by a bullet that pierced his spine during the civil war.

Yet as the Afghan war began its 12th year on Sunday, fears loom that the country will again fracture along ethnic lines once international combat forces leave by the end of 2014.

“It was a very bad situation,” said Wahidullah, who was a teenager when he was wounded in the 1992-1996 civil war. “All these streets around here were full of bullet shells, burned tanks and vehicles,” he added, squinting into a setting sun that cast a golden glow on the bombed-out Darulaman Palace still standing in west Kabul not far from where he was wounded.

“People could not find bread or water, but rockets were everywhere,” said Wahidullah, who now hobbles around on red-handled crutches. He goes by one name only, as do many Afghans.

The dilapidated palace is a reminder of the horror of the civil war when rival factions — who had joined forces against Soviet fighters before they left in early 1989 — turned their guns on each other. Tens of thousands of civilians were killed.

Fed up with the bloodletting, the Afghan people longed for someone — anyone — who would restore peace and order. The Taliban did so.

But once in power, they imposed harsh Islamic laws that repressed women and they publicly executed, stoned and lashed people for alleged crimes and sexual misconduct. The Taliban also gave sanctuary to al-Qaida in the run-up to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S. When the Taliban refused to give up the al-Qaida leaders who orchestrated 9/11, the U.S. invaded on Oct. 7, 2001.

Eleven years later, Afghanistan remains divided and ethnic tension still simmers.

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