7 Sep 2011

Life in Kabul 10 years since Operation Enduring Freedom

Nearly 10 years after British and American forces began the war in Afghanistan, Channel 4 News reporter Inigo Gilmore returns to Kabul to find “freedom and fear living side by side”.

Less than a month after 9/11 Britain and America, led by Tony Blair and George W Bush, launched their assault on al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. It was called Operation Enduring Freedom.

Today, while fighting rages in many parts of the country, Kabul has been transformed by an influx of foreign soldiers, aid workers and money. But much of the capital city now exists as a separate world; heavily-fortified walls protect western troops and the new Afghan elite.

But there is a growing fear that 10 years of relative freedoms and wealth will evaporate when western forces leave.

More than $450bn has been spent over the past decade and over 2000 US and British soldiers have lost their lives, alongside tens of thousands of Afghans.

9/11 ten years on: US soldiers in a village in Afghanistan. (Getty)

And sometimes a surreal security exists. A poster of teen idol Justin Bieber is plastered on the front of a Kabul barbershop.

Sixteen-year-old Omer, who works there, told Channel 4 News he had vague memories of the Twin Towers falling in New York, but he did not know who Osama bin Laden was. Nearby at a US military headquarters, Johnny Cash is on the speakers and troops practise country and western dancing.

Major Stephen Frank, from Texas, tells the film crew it’s important soldiers can get their minds off the dangers outside and “bodies gettng blown up”.

He adds: “We want to leave here in 2014 but as far as the Afghans doing this on their own, were hoping and preparing them but we don’t know what will happen 10 years from now.”

Mr Afghanistan, aka Shukrullah Helmandi.

One of the people who welcomes the American presence is Mr Afghanistan, aka Shukrullah Helmandi. He and his friends idolise the heroes of American bodybuilding.

He is from Helmand province, where so many British soldiers have died fighting the Taliban. For some reason Helmand is a stronghold of bodybuilding; the region has produced several champions. While the sport was tolerated by the Taliban, they imposed many restrictions. Shorts were banned and tracksuits were compulsory.

Helmandi told Channel 4 News: “People are fed up with fighting and they want to enjoy sport. Sport gives you peace of mind – this is progress.

“The guys from Kabul are really keen to have nice bodies, they are not doing it for the girls. After all we’re Muslims – we want to be good champions.”

But at the end of Inigo Gilmore’s trip “Mr Afghanistan” asks to have a quiet word. It turns out he is scared that when troops leave the Taliban could return.

As the allies prepare to withdraw, many here wonder what kind of Kabul will be left behind. As the unreal world of foreign occupation is dismantled, some feel the bubble of security could yet burst.