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Afghan Journey: En Route to Kandahar

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We continue our Afghan journey this morning with award-winning filmmaker Jon Alpert, his video crew, and Masuda Sultan, a young woman who is returning to her native Kandahar for the first time since the United States began bombing on October 7. We spoke to them yesterday as they were returning from a refugee camp in the border town of Chaman. Since then, they have had quite a journey. We speak to them now as they approach the outskirts of Kandahar, where they will visit with some of the surviving members of Masuda Sultan’s extended family.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We go directly to Afghanistan. On the line with us, actually, a satellite phone, as they speed to Kandahar, we are joined right now by Jon Alpert, the founder of DCTV, Downtown Community Television, where we’re based, in the firehouse, blocks from the first ground zero, to — he has gone to Afghanistan with his daughter, Tami Alpert, as well as Masuda Sultan, who is an Afghan American woman who has returned to Afghanistan to visit her family.

Welcome to The War and Peace Report.

JON ALPERT: Well, Hi, Amy. It’s nice to be talking to you.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. I’m glad you’re safe. Can you tell us what’s happened since we last talked yesterday morning?

JON ALPERT: Well, we’ve had quite an adventure. We’ve been trying to get into Afghanistan all day long, and we finally succeeded about an hour ago, but it was quite costly.

AMY GOODMAN: In what way?

JON ALPERT: Well, they seem to have created a new industry of relieving journalists of their money. And when we came to the passport office, we were told that it was $200 per person to enter Afghanistan. Our driver was nice enough to bargain it down, so we only had to pay $500. But then they told us that we needed to hire security guards, and that was $1,300 a day for these rather unfriendly and not so trustworthy-looking gentlemen who were standing around us with machine guns. So, we managed to decline their offer and went down the road looking for somebody else who could escort us into Kandahar. And that’s where we are. We’re about an hour and a half outside Kandahar. It’s really dusty. And I guess this is sort of a family vacation. I’m here with my daughter Tami, and she can’t wait to tell you what this ride is like.

AMY GOODMAN: Tami, are you there?



TAMI ALPERT: Hi. I just got a bloody nose trying to get our telephone set up.

JON ALPERT: Wounded in action.

AMY GOODMAN: And that’s because of how bumpy the ride is?

TAMI ALPERT: The road is completely unpaved. It was paved for about 20 feet after we got into — after we crossed the border, and ever since it’s really extraordinarily bumpy. We’ve been getting tossed left and right throughout the car. And there are a bunch of other trucks on the road, which we have to swerve around into oncoming traffic. So it’s been a little bit less than fun.

AMY GOODMAN: Who else is traveling on —

TAMI ALPERT: Plus, there’s a ton of — there’s a ton of dust coming into the car, and we have our window open to receive — sorry. What are you doing? Oh, sorry. We have armed guards in the car in front of us. We were required to hire them to protect us, and we have six armed guards. They suggested that we get 10, but we were able to negotiate and try to get the minimum of six, since they’re fleecing us for the cost of their aid.

AMY GOODMAN: Is Masuda Sultan with you, as well?

TAMI ALPERT: Yes, Masuda is with us. And last night, back in Pakistan, we visited some of her family, who are refugees here from Afghanistan. And we had a pretty upsetting experience, and she’d like to talk about it, so I’m going to hand the phone over to her.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Tami Alpert, with Jon Alpert, a well-known filmmaker who is chronicling the travels of Masuda Sultan, an Afghan American woman who lives here in New York, returned to visit her family in Afghanistan. Masuda, are you there?

MASUDA SULTAN: Greetings from Afghanistan.

AMY GOODMAN: How does it feel to be in your own country?

MASUDA SULTAN: I’m joyous. I’m also anxious to see what we’ll find in Kandahar, the city of my birth.

AMY GOODMAN: What happened last night? Can you describe your meeting with your family members in Pakistan?

MASUDA SULTAN: I will describe it, but before I describe it, I just want to say I’m a bit emotional over what has happened, and I may not be as objective as I probably should be in describing the events. We went —

AMY GOODMAN: We’re not asking for objectivity.

MASUDA SULTAN: We went over there last night. I had heard that there was some devastation. My family, I must — I have some cousins that live in Kandahar, and the extended family is about 55 people. They lived right near some Taliban-held compounds and buildings. And they anticipated that once the U.S. bombing campaign started, they wouldn’t be safe any longer where they were. They decided to move out to some farmland they had about 50 miles outside of Kandahar City and were staying there in order to stay safe.

One evening at about midnight, while they were sleeping, they heard some loud noises outside and realized that their area was being bombed. Some rockets hit nearby, and they decided they had to leave the rooms. As they were running outside of their rooms, some of them were wounded by rockets. Some of them were being shot at. They described the scene where they were running with their kids in their arms, dodging bullets left and right, while they had — while they saw balls of fire falling down to the earth. They had no idea what was going on, and they were just running in any which direction for their lives. Some of them hid under an area that was covered. And some of them heard word of their loved ones falling to the ground. They were —

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Masuda Sultan, who’s describing how her family members were killed by the U.S. bombs that fell on the farmhouse they were taking refuge in outside of Kandahar. She’s speaking to us from Afghanistan.

MASUDA SULTAN: There were women and children running for their lives, being shot at by a helicopter hovering over their home. And these people were not Taliban supporters. They weren’t al-Qaeda fighters. They were simple Afghans trying to stay safe in their own country. The events of September 11th really made me angry, but seeing these people and what they went through make me angry, as well. You know, they say that in war, they say that you have to break a couple of eggs in order to make an omelet. But when those eggs are your family, what can you do?

AMY GOODMAN: How many members of your family were killed in the bombing?

MASUDA SULTAN: Nineteen members of that extended family were killed. There were many women and children in that 19. And we were shown some of the pictures, as well. And we met the children that became orphans or that lost their mothers. One of them was a little girl that was a year and a half old, and she had been drinking breast milk. And they were having trouble with her getting used to the powdered milk. But it’s just — when you see the faces of those little children, and they tell you the story of how their mother died on their lap with the blood flowing out of their head, and they ran, and they ran for their lives, it just — it breaks your heart. It breaks your heart to know that this is the collateral damage of war.

AMY GOODMAN: How did they make it to Pakistan?

MASUDA SULTAN: Well, they described how they went back to Kandahar after the bombing, had to put the bodies on a tractor, what remained, and bury them closer to the city. They stayed in Kandahar for a few more days and decided to leave when they thought the roads were a little bit safer. They moved to Quetta, where they had some other family to receive them, and are currently staying with them in Quetta.

AMY GOODMAN: And how many were able to get out?

MASUDA SULTAN: All the rest of them got out. It was just under — it was about 40-some-odd people that made it out. And some of them — about two people in Karachi seeking treatment for their injuries. We also met some girls that had been grazed by bullets, little girls, 10, 12, 15, 16, that had small injuries of bullets just grazing their skin. It was unbelievable to hear and to see.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you glad that you have returned at this time?

MASUDA SULTAN: I’m sorry. Can you repeat that?

AMY GOODMAN: Are you glad that you have returned at this time?

MASUDA SULTAN: Am I glad that I returned at this time? Is that the question?


MASUDA SULTAN: I don’t know how to answer that. I woke up this morning crying, and I pride myself on not crying much. And I realized that if I had not come here, I wouldn’t have to go through this. Obviously, it’s a painful experience. But when I see what they’ve been through, I realize that I need to know what they’ve been through, and everyone else needs to know what they’ve gone through. And in that way, I’m glad that I’m here and I’m able to tell their story, because it’s one that definitely needs to be heard.

AMY GOODMAN: How did your family respond to you, being an Afghan and being an American, returning, since they died under the U.S. bombs?

MASUDA SULTAN: I’m not sure if I copy correctly. How does my family feel about this?

AMY GOODMAN: How did the family members you met with last night respond to you coming from the United States?

MASUDA SULTAN: Oh, I see. Well, actually, I was surprised at the sympathy that they expressed both toward victims of September 11th and the hospitality they provided us, as well as Tami, who was with me. And when I asked them about how they felt about Americans, they pointed out that Tami, who was with us, was welcomed in their home and that they gave her tea and cookies, and that they would offer that same hospitality to any Americans. They realize that this was some kind of a mistake, although they had a lot of trouble understanding why they were targeted. You know, it’s very difficult to tell someone who has just lost their child or their children to shots and to bombs over their house that this was a mistake. So, it was difficult for me trying to explain that, as an American, our government probably did not intend to kill innocent people, that it was probably a mistake. It’s a very difficult position to be in. And they asked me if I could get them an answer as to why they were targeted, or who would have given them information about — you know, information leading to someone thinking they were Taliban or al-Qaeda.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you going to try to get that answer?

MASUDA SULTAN: I will attempt to do that. I am not confident in what will happen as a result of my attempting to get this information or where I’ll get with this. But they have asked me to do this, and I have told them that I will attempt to gather information in that respect.

Another thing that I would like to do when I come back to the States is to set up a fund for them to pay both for the medical expenses they’ve incurred, as well as the funeral costs. Now, I know that I probably won’t be able to pay for everything, but I would like to contribute something to them. If the U.S. government isn’t going to pay for it, then I’m hoping that some of the American people, who have felt the same pain on September 11th that these people are feeling now, will be able to help them.

AMY GOODMAN: Masuda Sultan, how old are you?

MASUDA SULTAN: I’m 23 years old.

AMY GOODMAN: You now are on the road just an hour away from Kandahar, where you were born. What are your thoughts about going there today?

MASUDA SULTAN: As I told you earlier, in some ways, I’m extremely excited. In many ways, I’m really nervous. I don’t know what I’m going to find there. The new government has taken control on December 22nd, and I’m confident that they will be able to keep peace and stability. That is very exciting to know that we can play music as we go through the streets, and I probably will not be wearing a burqa this time around. I was there in July and wore one. But I’m also extremely nervous about what I’ll find in terms of the plight of the people and the stories that they’ll have to tell me about what happened to them over the last couple of months.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you have many family members in Kandahar?

MASUDA SULTAN: That is one of the other things I’m anxious to know, is how many people are still in Kandahar. I was able to meet up with some of them in Quetta, but I know that there are probably a few left in Kandahar. Some, I’m sure, are there. I’d also like to visit [inaudible] and see what has happened to it through all of this. And I’m sure I will report back to you on all our findings in Kandahar.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I thank you very much for spending the time with us today as you drive with your satellite phone, the armed men in the next vehicle. Masuda Sultan, along with Tami and Jon Alpert, driving from Pakistan, just made it into Afghanistan and headed to the city of Masuda’s birth, Kandahar Thank you, and have a safe journey. We will continue with Afghan Journey tomorrow on The War and Peace Report. Stay with us.

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