One year before my journey to Afghanistan 9/11 happened, Mullah Omar had a implemented a theocracy in Afghanistan with ludicrous laws requiring men to grow beards and women to wear periwinkle tablecloths. From the beginning of the Taliban’s rise to power, I wondered why the US didn’t have any reaction. When the war in Afghanistan began, many people like myself were very happy, and thought that the US would come to liberate the people, and bring an end to the radicalism that had spread across the country. Now we can see a decade and a half later that the US was not successful in Afghanistan.
In 2004, I moved to Afghanistan from Iran to work for the UN. When I arrived there, everything was in completely disarray. The US army was disorganized, I had imagined that things would have been different. To my dismay, the UN did not even send anyone to greet me at the airport when I arrived. So, I was in an unpleasant predicament from the moment that I arrived, and was left to fend for myself. Since I arrived on a Friday, I found a hotel and waited for 2 days. When I visited the UN, they told me the program that I wanted to work with was over. I went to the US Embassy, they couldn’t give me any information and told me to go to Islamabad. In front of the US Embassy in Kabul there was a farm, and I wondered what happened to US security in Afghanistan, there were tanks outside of the Embassy. I went to the farm and started talking with a horse, and said: “Sometimes I can only speak with a horse.”. Someone came out of the Embassy and was confused why I was talking with a horse. People from Afghanistan came and asked me why I took some photos.
The American soldiers were curious about what I was doing, the Afghanis wanted to arrest me, but an American soldier said: “Let him go”. I asked about getting a visa for the US, but they said that I couldn’t in Afghanistan.
Later, I visited a French institute called Aine, I spoke with a French journalist there, they had an art gallery and taught lessons on French culture. I asked them how I could work with them, but they said it was not safe. I said: “The US Army is here, it should be safe” and they told me, “The US army can’t even protect themselves.” I couldn’t believe their words, I had so much faith in the US. They explained that only a week ago the Taliban tried to kidnap some people working at UNESCO, and one year ago there had even been a bomb inside of Aine building. When the US Army arrived, the French officials stopped them from coming on, they also blocked NATO soldiers, waiting for the French officers to come, because the international community didn’t trust the American troops. I didn’t believe that it was true, my impression of the US Army was that they were so cool and professional, especially since the Pentagon was pouring so much money into the war effort. The Frenchman explained that the US is professional about destroying not solving problems or saving lives. These were not normal French citizens, they were working for Le Monde, Speigel, and Figaro.
I am sure that many Senators are not even aware of the reality of what it was like in Afghanistan. Even I couldn’t believe it. I called Reuters, BBC World, and NYT and wanted to make a documentary about the Taliban, Reuters rejected my proposal, and I wondered what was going on in this world. I talked to Afghanis and I said “Let’s go find Osama Bin Laden”. They told me that the US will torture us and bring us to Guantanamo, if we talked about this plan openly. I said, “but we want to find Bin Laden, not help him.” The Afghani who was a translator for the British Army said, even my brother was arrested, and he was working for the British Army. I didn’t believe it, I thought that they were being dramatic and exaggerating.
Eventually the UN offered me a position as a photographer, at the border between Afganistan and Pakistan. Initially I was so excited, and was ready to go to that area to work as a reporter. Almost all the different groups of Afghanis were offended by the conduct of the American soldiers, they had lost their hope, and said: “the US will not help”. At first, they thought that they would change something, but the behavior of the soldiers that they interacted with on the ground made them lose faith. I thought that the Afghans were being ungrateful for the freedom the US had given them. The Afghanis said that the Taliban radicals never stopped being radical, they just shaved their beards. I asked them to show me, they introduced me to people who were working for the Taliban, one of them, used to work as a driver for Mullah Omer, the other one owned a hotel, they shaved their beards, but they were still Islamic radicals. When I asked the Afghanis what the Americans were doing in Afghanistan, they said, “We don’t know”, inquired why they didn’t just ask them, and they said “Are you crazy we can’t ask this of Americans” in that time it wasn’t my job to make any inquiries. When you are born in Iran, most American’s can’t distinguish you as an individual from the Iranian regime.
One communist was in Afghanistan, Reza Deghati, a famous photographer, and friend of Ahmad Shahsboud. The leader of mujahedin. I was always interested in the Afghanistan Mujahideen because they fought with the Soviet Union and the Taliban, even when they were instructed to surrender by the state department. In my opinion, they were brave and very useful for the free world, the way that shah masboud was killed was very tragic. A part of Afghanis believed that Americans wanted Shah Masboud die, now Afghanistan is inside the US’s hand.
Before my departure for the border, a Brit advised me that if I go to the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan that I would be killed, without a doubt, explaining only those who speak Pashtu and have a beard can survive in that area. One Afghani who worked for their intelligence service told me that anyone who asked you to go to the Pashtu area wanted me killed. The person who tried to send me there was a Pakistani man who worked with the UN. The British gentleman who saved my life was killed 40 days later outside the UN in Kabul. When I accepted the post, it was because I was trying to avoid having to return to Iran. In the end, I decided to make a documentary and work on anthropology.
Afghanistan used to be a part of the Persian empire, so they also spoke Persian, and could not understand that I was foreign. I met many Afghanis, who were living in Iran as migrant workers and had faced a great deal of discrimination. So many Afghans have an inferiority complex when it comes to Iran. Ultimately those who believe in liberty and democracy will want it for everyone, which begs the question, did the Afghans have real freedom? The answer is no. What did the US do in Afghanistan? Kill some bad guys and spent billions of dollars.
When I started looking for a job in Afghanistan, I went and spoke with the American soldiers. One day they went to one French art institute, and the French were very sensitive about the rude behavior of the Americans, and saw their “Macho” behavior as a new form of fascism. I scolded them for being so disrespectful to the soldiers of the free world. The French corrected me saying,”This army is not that army that came in WW2, they don’t know why they are in Afghanistan and they don’t know why they are here, and they don’t know who is a friend and who is an enemy”. I visited another institute that was similar to UNICEF for war orphans and the homeless. Suddenly one soldier came from the US army, started yelling at everyone, their guns were pointed up, not down to the ground, they showed their arms to me and said “British guy, British guy” because when I went to Afghanistan, I met with some people who were working at the British Embassy. Their behavior was so tragic for me to witness, as someone who had believed that the US had come to make peace and freedom. For a long time, it was my plan to go to the US, but after these behaviors I changed my opinion. I was someone who wanted to study Afghan society and explain it to the world. So, I returned to the French Institute, and asked if they could watch my luggage, they said, ”No, go talk to your American friends.”. When I explained how the Americans had behaved the French were shocked, especially since my family and I have a long history of working with the US. The French couldn’t understand why the Americans couldn’t recognize me, they said,” it’s not possible, if you came from Iran they must know you, and have done a background check, especially anyone who came from Iran.” A few days later I saw some people from the Iranian embassy, they took pictures of me in the street when I was walking with Tomas Grabka, a photojournalist from Spiegel. He had a photo exhibition of his photography, and he was shocked why I wasn’t working for magnum. I said I don’t know. He asked me why the other Iranians could work as photojournalists but not me. I explained that one of them was communist and had a problem with me for my political views. What perplexed me was how someone who agreed with the Soviet Union could be able to work in Afghanistan. The biggest question was, what was US intelligence doing in that time. I went to different art schools, and wanted to teach Afghans about art, but they were so poor that they could only offer me a weekly pay equivalent to what I spent for one night at my hotel.
I moved to a hotel across the street from Afghanistan’s Minister of Culture called the Jameer Hotel, one night at midnight, there was a power outage and decided that it would be safer to go outside. The front desk and security guard advised me to stay inside. When I came back to my room around 2 or 3 AM, I saw that someone had broken into my luggage. It was like a nightmare, I went to sit in the lobby and started writing about what had happened. This happened in an area that was supposed to be under the protection of US Army, but the area was less secure than Iran, the country that was my real prison. I was tortured in Iran mentally and physically, and my father went to political prison even though he had committed no crime. The Iranian regime tried to prove that he was working for the CIA that was bullshit. None of the Americans could recognize me. Now that I am in the US, nothing had changed and no one can understand my contributions.
A few months ago I heard that the president decided to go take military action against Afghanistan, I am sure that he doesn’t even know the difference between Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, and that he wouldn’t be able to find it on a map. Especially since when he bombed Syria, he said: “We bombed Iraq”. In this time, many people around the world are making fun of Americans, If the US say that they are bombing Iraq, they will suddenly bomb Paris.
When I was in Afghanistan, I started making a documentary, and no American media was ready to help me. I could have been useful because I knew that language, and culture better than anyone working with the US. I was asking Afghanis who translated for the US about how US soldiers connected with the local people, they explained that the American soldiers didn’t. They would however play in the streets with poor children and give them their boots, which they would then sell in the local bazaar. It was very easy to buy brand new clothes from the US Army. It was however impossible to buy any clothes from the British Army.
When I asked the British, they told me that American soldiers have no brain and are only capable of destroying things. Another day during Ramadan, I was eating outside to see Muslims would react, and I pretended not to know Persian and used methods from French anthropology. I tried to find intelligent Americans but there were none, only stupid soldiers.
An Afghani told me that at night they sold Hashish and Chinese girls to American soldiers inside of the base and that this is how he made his living. The Afghani man was a pimp, he didn’t care about Afghanistan and didn’t think that the country would ever change.
The morning after the attack on my room in the lobby, some Pakistanis in the hotel asked me about Jerusalem, because Iran and Sepah believed that I supported Israel and was on America and Israel’s side, it was very funny because radical Muslims understood me but Americans couldn’t.
I got a better idea what American intelligence was like until I went to speak with FBI in Albany, and two stupid guys asked me what mosque I went to. They asked me if I was Muslim with anger, and I was shocked, I should tell everyone reading this that terrorist organizations have more information and are faster than American intelligence service. I had gone into the FBI to give them information about potential security threats to the US, and had visited a synagogue just a few days before going there.
This report is not nice to hear for those related to Army or those who supported Trump, this is the reality. The US military was unsuccessful and completely disorganized. The US didn’t even have translators, and the Afghanis that they used as translators said to me, that he didn’t translate everything accurately because they weren’t completely fluent in English. I met one man in Turkey who claimed to have translated for the CIA and the US didn’t even give him a visa. Many translators were murdered. Nine CIA agents were killed in Afghanistan in the operation that located Osama Bin Laden, and this was the fault of the US Army because they didn’t take the importance of intelligence seriously enough. No government can be successful or have a strategy without a reliable intelligence service.
The biggest problem of America in Afghanistan and Iraq is that thing that I mentioned. The CIA is not allowed to be active in the same area as the US Army. I knew one man who worked on intelligence, but I don’t think he was from the CIA because he was very young. He asked me what people in Iran think about American, I said, “No matter you are in Afghanistan now, it’s better you manage this job, otherwise, no one in the world can.” I know after the war in Afghanistan, many countries, especially Germany and France didn’t support the war In Iraq. On one side it was a part of the strategy of the US, but even the British army was unhappy with the US’s behavior.
As a pro-American, who came from a pro-American family, our lives in Iran were risked and no one cared about our allegiance or supported us, but we choose this because we believed in the free-world. America is at the head of the free world, and needs to manage it’s responsibility, otherwise everything is lost. The British government could find my entire background in one hour, but from 2004 until now the US still couldn’t understand me. The biggest problem about Afghanistan again is that the US Army has no anthropologists, and the government had no knowledge, not even about geography. When they go to war, no one controls the soldiers and no one seemed to know what was going on.
The US has a deep connection with Pakistan, and now the question that remains is, why is Afghanistan on the Blacklist but Pakistan is not. Pakistan protected Bin Laden. This foreign policy and strategy of the US will always be weak if the US Army is under informed. The people who have knowledge don’t have power, and when even the president can’t even understand, how can the US Army understand? All the people that have power are related to one man. When Nikita Khrushchev was in power, the red army lost everything, and the Soviet intelligence service had many facts, but they lost the war, but about gathering information and intelligence, they were successful. I don’t think that the US is allowing intelligence to gather enough information.
The big problem of the US is the lack of understanding that a weapon can never change someone’s mindset. You can kill your enemy with a gun, but with viral ideologies like Radicalism, it takes a sound strategy to change peoples minds and hearts. The US sent the mother of all bombs to kill a few ISIS soldiers, but ISIS used a few people to kill hundreds of people. This is Soviet methodology, that no one in the US army has enough knowledge about the intelligence service.
I would love to send more of my pictures of Afghanistan where I focused on the people and their real lives. I should mention that when Afghanis thought that I couldn’t understand what they were saying, they joked about chopping off my head like how they could slaughter me like a chicken. Another time when I returned to my hotel, one worker said to my assistant, “this guy is not Muslim, you should kill him” and he didn’t know that I speak Persian. I hope this memory can be used to change US strategy, especially in this time, China is earning a lot of money in Afghanistan, while the US spent money. I can send my documentary movie that I made in Afghanistan and if any senator wants I can edit it again.
In 2004 I could understand that Bin Laden was in Pakistan, I sent reports, but it took 7 more years for the US to take any action.
When I came back to Iran, Iran’s intelligence service interrogated me about what I was doing in Afghanistan. For many years I couldn’t forget that the US couldn’t recognize their mistakes after so long. If the strategy of the US doesn’t change nothing will change. My life was in danger every day in Iran until I was arrested in 2013 and left.
The biggest point that I should make is that Sepah was very active about Afghanistan, even when I came back Sepah took my footage, even though there was nothing on it that could incriminate me. A few years later, and Iranian American Amir Hikmeti was imprisoned only for one picture that he had with an American soldier. Sepah is still powerful in Afghanistan, the biggest fact is about the Drug Crescent. Where they make and process heroin and send it to the west. The US soldiers also partook in this, and this is how heroin was introduced to the US.
Without a knowledge of anthropology, history, and culture, nothing will ever be accomplished in Afghanistan, only money can be lost. When I was in Afghanistan I wanted to research how drugs are related to and sponsor terrorism. The title of this research can be Drug Crescent, which includes Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, as Columbia produces cocaine they produce heroin. I am sure that no one in the DHS or Army ever heard this name. About this part, which I said none of them, we can say that without knowledge of how they manage drugs they can have no success.