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Afghanistan
3:00 am
Tue March 20, 2012

Afghan Farmer Lost 11 Relatives In Shooting Rampage

Originally published on Tue March 20, 2012 4:49 pm

Afghans say they're so inured to civilians killed in wars that they bury their dead and move on. That's not so easy for Muhammad Wazir. He lost his mother, his wife, a sister-in-law, a brother, a nephew, his four daughters and two of his sons in last week's mass shooting in two villages.

"My little boy, Habib Shah, is the only one left alive, and I love him very much," says Wazir.

The boy cried next to his father as Wazir spoke by cellphone. The 4-year-old is his favorite, Wazir says, and that's why he took the boy as he traveled to the eastern side of Kandahar province last week. While they were away, tragedy struck their tiny mud brick village in Panjwai district, southwest of Kandahar City.

Public records and military sources have provided a clearer portrait of the man who allegedly slaughtered 16 people in the night. U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales had financial troubles. He played football in high school. His war buddies thought he was cool under fire. His neighbors liked him. His wife kept a blog. Bales had sustained previous injuries that might trigger post-traumatic stress disorder.

Afghanistan — especially in rural villages — keeps few records of births and deaths. Most of the victims were young and illiterate and left only stunned relatives and friends behind. Panjwai district was dangerous before the massacre and is now considered off-limits to foreign and even Afghan journalists.

Wazir, 35, says he can hardly describe the pain of returning home to find his entire family gone.

"As a parent, you hate to see even your child's little finger hurt. Imagine losing 11 members of your family at once?" he says.

His oldest boy, Ismatullah, had just started to grow soft whiskers when he died. At 14, he was tall and strong, turning handsome, his father says. He was in elementary school about five years ago when fighting erupted and all the schools closed. Like other boys in the village, Ismatullah joined his father in the fields, as their district became one of the biggest killing fields of the Afghan war.

Every day after prayers and breakfast, Ismatullah worked with his father in the fields until noon. Then he could go play, Wazir says. The teenager especially liked an Afghan game called Tup Danda — a bit like baseball.

Faizullah, the next oldest, was about 8 when he died. Wazir admits the boy was a little spoiled, with no school to attend and still too young for farm work. Faizullah loved to ride a bicycle around the village, and whenever he could, he would grab his father's cellphone to play the games on it.

Also shot, stabbed and burned was Wazir's brother, Akhtar. He was about 21 years old and had just married. He had no children yet.

"Like anyone, I wanted my children to be doctors, engineers — important people. All my dreams are buried under a pile of dust now," Wazir says.

Men from Kandahar don't traditionally talk about their wives or daughters in public, and certainly not to the media. Wazir's daughters were 12, 8, 3 and 2 years old. Their names were Massoma, Farida, Palwasha and Bibya. His 60-year-old mother, Shakarina, also was killed, along with his wife, Zahra.

"I loved them all like they were parts of my body," Wazir says. "I miss all of them terribly."

Five other men and women were killed in a different village; NPR could not reach family members to confirm the victims' names. Five survivors were receiving treatment at the U.S. military hospital at Kandahar Airfield.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene.

Today, the American commander in Afghanistan takes questions from Congress.

INSKEEP: General John Allen visits Washington after a series of crises in the war. In a moment, we'll ask the White House deputy national security adviser how, if at all, U.S. plans may change.

GREENE: The most recent incident was a mass shooting of Afghans, allegedly by an American sldier. And we've learned many details of the suspect's life. But until now, we've known much less about the 16 Afghans who were killed, and the five who were wounded. Each victim had a story, and NPR's Quil Lawrence spoke with the Afghan farmer who lost 11 members of his family.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: Afghans say they're so inured to civilians killed in wars that they bury their dead and move on. But that's not easy for Muhammad Wazir, who lost his mother, his wife, his sister-in-law, his brother, four daughters, a nephew and two sons last week.

MUHAMMAD WAZIR: (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: My little boy Habib Shah is the only one left alive, and I love him very much, says Wazir. The boy cried next to his father as he spoke by cellphone. Wazir admits that 4-year-old Habib Shah was his favorite, and that's why he took the boy to travel with him. While they were away, tragedy struck their tiny, mud-brick village.

WAZIR: (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: His oldest boy, Ismatullah, had just started to grow soft whiskers. At 14, he was tall and strong; turning handsome, his father says. He was in elementary school about five years ago when fighting erupted, and all the schools closed. Ismatullah joined his father in the fields - like other boys in the village - as their district, Panjwai, became one of the biggest killings fields of the Afghan war.

WAZIR: (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: Every day after prayers and breakfast, Ismatullah would join me in the fields, and we'd work through until noon. Then he could go play, says Wazir. Ismatullah loved Tup Danda – an Afghan game like baseball. Faizullah was next oldest, about 8.

WAZIR: (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: After the schools closed, Faizullah got a little spoiled, Wazir admits. The boy loved to ride a bicycle around the village and whenever he could, he'd grab his father's cellphone and play games on it. Also shot, stabbed and burned was Wazir's brother, Akhtar, about 21 years old and just married; no children yet.

WAZIR: (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: Like anyone, I wanted my children to be doctors, engineers – important people. All my dreams are buried under a pile of dust now, says Wazir.

Men from Kandahar don't traditionally talk about their wives or daughters in public, certainly not to the press. Wazir's daughters were 12, 8, 3 and 2 years old; their names were Massoma, Farida, Palwasha and Nabia. His 60-year-old mother, Shakarina, was killed, along with his wife, Zahra.

WAZIR: (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: I loved them all like they were parts of my own body, Wazir says. I miss all of them terribly.

Quil Lawrence, NPR News, Kabul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.