National Geographic : 1993 Oct
can't tell one mujahidin group from another. Half the gunmen are just street thugs. We are going to die." Wewouldnotbeouthere atallifIhad not gotten a call saying the house I am renting has been looted. We are on our way to check the damage. This is only my second week back in Afghanistan. Since 1985 I have made a half dozen trips here as a journalist, traveling in the mountains with the guerrillas, whose fierce determination I have come to respect. Now, days after the collapse of the communist regime, it sickens me to see Kabul, the ulti mate goal of the mujahidin, reduced to anar chy at their own hands. In the hours before the mujahidin closed in, it seemed as if every worker and shopkeeper and barrow merchant in this city of 1.5 million tried to flee to the suburbs. They packed into buses or clung to the back of pickup trucks in human pyramids. Those who couldn't ride ran. Cars full of soldiers from the Afghan Army, some stripped down to their T-shirts, joined the galloping masses. At one secret police center, I watched men I assumed to be agents back up a truck, fill it with rugs and of fice furniture, and drive off in a cloud of dust. Now we pass empty bazaars, long lines of dilapidated little shops with their shutters drawn and locked, and empty, impersonal government buildings. We turn onto a dusty, unpaved side street just wide enough for the taxi. After we bounce 50 yards or so, four men with rifles and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher step out to block our way. "Halt," says one with wild eyes and matted hair. "Get over here. A boy is dying." The gunmen hustle us toward a teenager lying on the ground in front of an empty fruit and-vegetable stand, its striped, blue-and white awning torn and snapping in the wind. The boy's left leg has been blown apart just below the knee by a rocket explosion. His lower leg hangs by shreds of flesh. The bone glares white in the blood. Quickly I take off my leather belt and cinch it tightly around his thigh to stop the bleeding. Together we lift him into the back of the taxi. His face is ghostly. His eyes roll back. He tries to speak but makes only a gurgling sound. We head off toward the hospital of the Inter national Committee of the Red Cross, the only medical facility in the city still operating at full strength. There we hand the boy to orderlies, who rush him to a triage area. And that is the last we ever see of him. THE RUSSIANS ARE GONE, but rifle toting sniperssuch as these Uzbek from northernAfghanistan stillprowl the ter races of Kabul. Warringmujahidingroups, divided mainly along ethnic lines and sup ported by Iran,Pakistan,or SaudiArabia, beganjockeyingfor position in the new Afghan government soon after the commu nists fell. Withinfour months their shells and rockets had damagedthe capital more severely than had the war between mujahidinguerrillasand the Soviet backed communist regime.