Afghanistan has had a turbulent, interesting history and has withstood many invasions. In 328 B.C., Alexander the Great entered what is today Afghanistan – but was then part of the Persian Empire – and captured several cities, including Herat, Kandahar, Kabul and Balkh. The 300-year rule of his Greek successors was followed by that of Turkic Kushanis and various Buddhist groups. A lively Greco-Buddhist culture flourished around Bamian. In AD 652, Afghanistan fell to the conquering Arabs who brought with them Islam.
The Hazara people, traditionally, have been among the most oppressed ethnic groups. They are Chinese Mongolian descent, so they look a little different than a lot of the different ethic groups in Afghanistan, and this created ethnic clashes.
When Bamian was at the hands of Wahdat, they built the only university in the country that was not established by former governments. The Hazara women and girls studied and taught there. The Hazara also had doctors in the hospital and clinics in Bamian and elsewhere. It may sound unbelievable but the Hazara had high school for girls. The Taleban tried to destroy all that.
Repression by the Taliban of the Hazara ethnic group, which is predominantly Shi’a Muslim, was particularly severe. Although the conflict between the Hazaras and the Taliban is political and military as well as religious, and it is not possible to state with certainty that the Taliban engaged in its campaign against the Shi’a solely because of their religious beliefs, the religious affiliation of the Hazaras apparently was a significant factor leading to their repression.
The worst massacre was carried out against the Hazaras in August of 1998 in Mazar-e-Sharif in which reportedly, more thank 10,000 people were killed in cold blood during three days of rampage through the city. Later that month, when the Taleban took over the ancient city of Bamian, they dragged patients out of hospital beds and shot them. Their only crime was being Hazaras.
The Taliban destroyed two giant pre-Islamic Buddha statues carved into cliffs in Bamiyan province, on the grounds that statues are idolatrous and insulting to Islam. The Taliban destroyed the 2,000-year-old statues despite appeals from the United Nations, international NGO’s, and the world community, including many Muslim countries.
It seemed to some that the international reaction to the destruction of the famous Ottoman bridge at Mostar in 1993, quite possibly served to inspire the even more widely publicized destruction in March 2001 of the two giant rock-cut Buddhas in Bamian, Afghanistan which shocked the world, and which involved Al Qaeda in assistance to the Taliban. It remains to be seen how the destruction of the Bamian Buddhas may have related to the suicide bombings of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, but some speculate that one inspired the other. After returning to Afghanistan, muscle hijacker recruits fought on the front lines alongside the Taliban and participated in the March 2001 destruction of the giant Buddha statues in Bamian Province, Afghanistan.
The sixth century Great Buddhas in Bamian were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001, but since the commencement of Operation Enduring Freedom, attempts are now being made to restore them.
Reports emerged in late 2002 of harassment of Hazaras by Taliban allies in a remote part of central Afghanistan, though US-led forces had since taken control of the region. The UNHCR said in a November 2002 report that it had received reports of intimidation of Hazara refugees who were returning to the Tajik-dominated Kahmard region, located in central Bamian Province.
US and Afghan troops in March 2003 took control of the Kahmard region amid reports that Taliban sympathizers were sheltering in the area. Populated in part by ethnic Tajiks and Tatars who had helped the Taliban during its occupation of Bamian between 1999 and 2001, Kahmard had been the only Bamian district not controlled by the Hazara-based Hezb-i-Wahdat group after the Taliban’s ouster.
Bamian Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT): “Kiwi Base”
The Bamian province was initially chosen as a PRT site because Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and the leadership of the coalition wanted specifically to support the Hazara people who are a populace of the central highlands region of Afghanistan.
The rugged terrain of Bamian Province’s mountain passes and valleys doesn’t hamper the Bamian Provincial Reconstruction Team’s civil affairs soldiers’ determination to reach their destinations. Whether it is by a 4/4-vehicle convoy or astride a horse, these soldiers set out weekly on single and multiple-day missions armed with tools to help chisel out a promising future for Afghanistan’s up and coming generation.
At least once a week, the Bamian Provincial Reconstruction Team Civil Affairs Team road horseback through the bazaar, the central point of the city, to show the people that they are and will remain safe from the Taliban.
A US Army provincial reconstruction team, or PRT, sprinkled a dash of Western ideas over a culture flavored with iron-clad traditions in late 2003 when it hired two Afghan women to help at the PRT dining facility. The Bamian PRT civil affairs team first brought the up idea to hire Sakina Esmaelie and Aamana Haidari, a mother-and-daughter team, to show the local people that women can work outside the home in professional capacities. The CA team wanted to get across the message that while it’s very unusual in this culture for (women) to hold paying jobs, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. When the two women were first hired, there was some initial, slight resistance from the local community. Rumors spread throughout the local village that they were hiring them for services other than cooking.
At the end of September 2003, the US Provincial Reconstruction Team in the Bamian province of Afghanistan handed over the reins to a New Zealand team. The PRT camp in Bamian had been controlled by a 50-person US element since its establishment March 1, and passed the responsibilities to a 100-person New Zealand military element 22 September 2003.
As of late 2003 the Bamian province and Hazara region had the advantage of being among the most secure and stable areas of Afghanistan. So, the Army had the most opportunity to do real military civil affairs work there. This allowed both the U.S. and New Zealand PRT teams to help establish things like building the Bamian University to help educate the Hazara people, who then can help themselves rebuild their own infrastructure, and their own economy. The Bamian PRT’s outpost is referred to by troops as Kiwi Base.
The five-person U.S. civil affairs team stayed and continued their missions.
With Bamian’s remote location, transporting supplies on the ground takes the better part of a day, a problem that is solved thanks to the air support of HMH-769.