The horrific legacy of the United States invasion of Afghanistan remains vivid in the memory of many Afghans, one of which is father of the late Zabi Rezayee.
Zabi Rezayee, 17, instigated global despair as he was filmed clinging on to the landing gear and wheel covers of a US Air Force C-17 as it took off from the runway of Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport on 16 August 2021, eventually falling to his demise on the tarmac, his father told the Sunday Times of London.
Mounting on top of his existing anguish, the 42-year-old Zakir Rezayee said Zabi’s brother Zaki, 19, joined the attempted escape and has not been heard from ever since.
“I’m hurting, I’m angry, but there’s nothing I can do,” Rezayee said, according to the New York Post. “I’ve buried one son and I don’t even know if the other one is dead or alive.”
Further amplifying the desperate need to escape the interim Taliban government, the young boy’s attempt at the time shed light on fear held by civilians across the nation.
At least five clinging on the cargo plane were believed to be killed, though the exact number was never determined. According to reports, two landed in a residential neighbourhood where they were found in a gruesome scene. The impact was described by a witness as “sounding like a bomb.”
Another was found crushed in the plane’s wheel upon landing in Qatar, while two others, including Zabi, fell back down onto the runway.
For Mohammed, the question of why the US military made the decision to depart the airport with evacuees still “holding onto the aircraft” has haunted him for a year.
“I blame the pilot and I blame the Americans who were responsible for the airport security,” Rezayee, a father of eight, expressed.
“I don’t think those clinging on really believed the plane would leave.”
The two teenagers were ready to start a new life elsewhere before the new leaders took over their home when they decided to grab onto the plane.
“I told them to go ahead, but be careful,” Rezayee recalled in an interview with VICE World News. “I got a call from Zabi’s phone later and heard a stranger’s voice.”
“The guy on my son’s phone said they found Zabi’s dead body,” Rezayee said. Shortly after, the fearful father rushed to the gore scene to finally locate him as one of the last planes from America’s failed 20-year occupation took off from Afghanistan for the last time.
“I found him in pieces.”
Rezayee is sitting at his shared flat in Kolola Poshta, a poor housing development near the centre of Kabul, VICE reported. But the father’s sorrows did not end with the death of his 17-year-old son.
His other son is still missing one year on.
“The death of Zabi did not affect me as much as the uncertain condition of Zaki did,” he said. “The infinite possibilities surrounding his fate is more than he can bear,” VICE wrote.
“If you know that your son is dead, that will give you pain for sure. But if you remain in an uncertain condition where you don’t know what happened, it is the hardest […] Different thoughts come to my mind on what happened to him and they just kill me.”
“If I describe our condition, I can only say that we are not alive,” Rezayee said. “Me and my entire family are dead.”
In February 2020, under the former Donald Trump administration, the US and the Taliban signed the US–Taliban deal (or the Doha Agreement) in Qatar that set 1 May 2021 as the deadline for the complete withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan.
The deadline was later revised to 11 September by President Biden, though he later changed it to 31 August following the Taliban takeover of Kabul.
“From one side there was a huge chaos in the country as the US left Afghanistan. From the other side, there was fear of the Taliban. That is why the people were afraid for their lives and everyone rushed towards the airport,” Rezayee said.
“Otherwise,” he added, “no one would be happy to allow his 19- and 17-year-old sons to leave the country.”
The statistics of the number of people who plummeted to their deaths during US’ “botched” evacuation remain unknown, with former Afghan health officials claiming that the numbers became quite hard to confirm due to the chaos.
In some cases, the health officials added, victims’ bodies “were so badly damaged from the fall that they were difficult to identify,” VICE said.
“Everything was in the control of the US forces and they could have evacuated in a way that no one would be harmed… They knew that if they fly these people would be killed, but they still took off knowing this,” Rezayee added.
The Air Force has since conducted an internal probe into the tragic incident.
In June, investigators cleared the aircrew of “wrongdoing,” claiming they “acted appropriately and exercised sound judgement in their decision to get airborne as quickly as possible when faced with an unprecedented and rapidly deteriorating security situation.”
“This incident has never happened in history: to see people on a plane’s wings and [still] fly,” Rezayee said.
A mere apology from US officials could not make up for the tragic loss of Rezayee and his family. “The pilot must be prosecuted in an international criminal court,” he stated. “This is a war crime, and if there is true justice he must be put in court and answer why he took off in such conditions,” as quoted by VICE.
Since the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, innocent civilians have found themselves in a colossal of halted international financial institutions in the wake of the Taliban takeover as well as nearly $10 billion frozen assets by the US.
US war crimes in Afghanistan
The US invasion of Afghanistan, also Washington’s longest war, cost some $2 trillion and killed at least 71,000 civilians.
The Barack Obama administration highly endorsed the US drone programme, authorising more strikes in his first year in the office than George W. Bush ever carried out during his entire time as president of the United States.
Until 2017, Afghanistan had been under frequent US bombardment, in an ‘unreported war’ that saw 1,337 weapons dropped in 2016 alone, a 40% rise on 2015.
The US invasion of Afghanistan, which left hundreds of thousands dead and destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure, was launched on Bush’s orders in 2001 following the September 11 attacks.
According to US figures, the brutal military intervention has killed more than 241,000 deaths casualties, of which 71,344 were civilians.
Between 2003 and 2004, Human Rights Watch [HRW] found that the US was complicit in war crimes in Afghanistan with American forces indiscriminately detaining innocent civilians who were not connected to hostilities taking place in the country.
Some civilians also told HRW that they were subjected to house raids.
Since the Taliban takeover one year ago, rights groups have warned of a dire humanitarian crisis that has left Afghans dying of hunger.