Infighting saps Afghanistan

little boy

April 2, 1996
Web posted at: 1:30 p.m. EST (1830 GMT)

From Correspondent Christiane Amanpour

KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Afghanistan during the 1980s became a Cold War killing field as the Soviet Union launched a brutal assault on the Islamic nation. During the fight, 1.5 million Afghans died to push the Soviet army back.

Seven years later, Afghanistan is still at war -- this time with itself.

In Kabul, Afghanistan's capital, vast stretches of land lie in ruins. Buildings are bombed out, their frames barely standing, and debris is scattered in every direction.

But the destruction did not come during the 10-year Soviet occupation. Instead, it occurred afterward, when victorious Islamic fighters known as Mujahadeen turned on each other in a battle for power.

bicycle among destruction destroyed home

In 1994, 10,000 Kabul residents were killed, 25,000 were wounded and more than 1 million fled the capital. Those numbers exceed the casualties Serbs inflicted on Sarajevo in four years of fighting.

Civilians are constantly on the run as they try to escape the carousel of death.

mother "Our lives are completely ruined," one mother said. "We've moved three times in three years because our homes were attacked."

One taxi driver summed up the fighting as "brother killing brother."

"I don't know what's happened," he added.

Cold War battleground

Afghanistan became the focus of international attention in the 1980s when the Soviet Union rolled in and made the fight for Afghanistan the last Cold War battleground.

To combat Soviet aggression, the United States poured in billions of dollars to aid the fight through Mujahadeen guerrillas. But when the Soviets left, the United States lessened its role in the area.

The current U.S. involvement amounts to backing a defunct United Nations peace mission. For the past two years, the United Nations has tried with little success to get the warring factions in Afghanistan to form a national authority.

soldier holding gun

But increasingly, many fear nothing will change unless major powers like the United States weigh in on the side of peace.

"We have unfinished business here," said Terry Pitzner with the United Nations. "I think we didn't stay long enough to see these people through the critical period. The critical period continued after the Soviets left."

The United Nations, Red Cross and a host of other relief agencies are the only organizations aiding Afghans.

Afghanistan government struggles to curb fighting

The Kabul government has little authority beyond keeping other factions at bay. Each group claims to be more Muslim than the next -- a distinction lost on Afghans who watch the holy warriors drive expensive cars while they live in slums with no running water.

"I want to tell them just how they were," said Mohammad Bashir, a former student. "They killed their brothers and they fight with each other."

That kind of despair is slowly destroying Kabul's strength, and Afghanistan's government says the United States has a moral obligation to re-engage. After all, Afghans say, they played an integral role in the collapse of Communism.

In the meantime, neighboring countries are aggravating the war. Iran, Russia, India and Pakistan have supplied various warring factions with supplies. And because observers believe no faction can garner a clear victory, they expect the casual killings to continue.

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