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Afghanistan: Kabul Marks Anniversary Of 11 September Attacks

Security in the Afghan capital Kabul was tight today, on the anniversary of last year's terrorist attacks on the United States. The attacks led to sweeping changes in Afghanistan, as the U.S.-led coalition waged war on the Taliban and their guests, Al-Qaeda. This year a democratic government took power in Kabul. RFE/RL spoke to Kabul residents about what 11 September means to them.

Kabul, 11 September 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Afghans on the streets of Kabul today expressed sympathy with the United States on the anniversary of last year's 11 September terrorist attacks.

In interviews with RFE/RL, students, shopkeepers, and other ordinary citizens were nearly unanimous in expressing sorrow at the loss of life and gratitude to the U.S.-led coalition for liberating the country from the Taliban.

The sentiments of 24-year-old Fawzi, a student, are typical. She says that, although the events of 11 September 2001 were horrible, they led to dramatic improvements in day-to-day life for Afghans. "After 11 September, the situation of our country improved a lot. The situation is much more peaceful than at the beginning. For example, during the [rule of the] Taliban, the situation was not peaceful and we could not go to do our duties or to study or do anything else. But now the situation is very calm and stable and we can study and perform our duties normally," Fawzi said.

Fawzi, like many Kabul women, no longer wears a full-length burqa when she goes into the city to shop or run errands. A friend present during Fawzi's interview, however, was still fully hidden beneath a light-blue burqa.

Few countries could be said to feel the repercussions of the terrorist attacks more than Afghanistan. The attacks, blamed on the Afghanistan-based Al-Qaeda network, brought the U.S.-led international coalition decisively into the Afghan civil war on the side of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance.

Within a month of the terrorist attacks, the U.S. and Britain launched air strikes against the Taliban militia, which had been sheltering Al-Qaeda. A month after that, the capital, Kabul, fell, spelling an end to the Taliban's five-year hold on the city. By the end of the year, the war was effectively over.

The past few months have seen the restoration of a democratic government in Kabul and life is slowly returning to normal. The streets of the Kabul, however, were noticeably quieter today as security was stepped up on the anniversary the attacks.

Officials of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said they had received no specific threats of violence but were clearly not taking any chances following last week's car-bomb attack in the city that killed some 30 people. No group has claimed responsibility for the bomb, but officials blame remnants of the Taliban or Al-Qaeda.

The day passed quietly in the capital and there were no reports of major incidents.

To mark the anniversary of the attacks, the international community here and the Afghan government planned modest ceremonies.

Military officials at Bagram air base north of Kabul held a memorial service at dawn.

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul flew the flag at half-staff today and in a somber ceremony punctuated by trumpets, dedicated a memorial to the victims of the 11 September attacks.

Officials buried two small pieces of New York's World Trade Center on the embassy grounds.

U.S. Charge d'Affaires Brad Hanson spoke of the significance the attacks had on Afghanistan and the lives of its citizens. "There is nowhere else in the world outside the United States that the events of 11 September have a more profound impact than right here in Afghanistan. Those tragic events set in motion a political process resulting in a new government in Afghanistan, a better future, a time of hope and reconstruction for Afghans," Hanson said.

Back on the streets of Kabul, the mood was more festive than tragic. Ali Usuf, a 26-year-old law student, said that after 11 September he can complete his studies and hope to live a normal life.

He seems well informed about what happened a year ago today in New York and Washington, and was eager to speak into the microphone. "Eleven September is the day that the building of the Ministry of Interior Affairs, no...the Ministry of Defense [the Pentagon], and the World Trade Center were attacked. And it was a terrorist action that was done by the Taliban and the Osama bin Laden terrorist organization," Usuf said.

But not everyone appears to be in the know. A year ago, the Taliban was still firmly in control in Kabul and residents' access to information was tightly restricted. Some are still unaware of what happened a year ago today.

Mohammed Azam, a photographer in Kabul's central bazaar, gave his version of the events of last 11 September. "It was the incident that took place in the United States by airplanes and destroyed those two tall buildings," Azam said.

But when pressed to answer where in the United States the attacks took place, he answered, "California."

For him and for many others, the details don't matter. All he knows is that after 11 September, the U.S. and the international community took notice of Afghanistan and life has taken a turn for the better.

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    Mark Baker

    Mark Baker is a freelance journalist and travel writer based in Prague. He has written guidebooks and articles for Lonely Planet, Frommer’s, and Fodor’s, and his articles have also appeared in National Geographic Traveler and The Wall Street Journal, among other publications.