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What Afghans think of the war: 'Why are you Americans here?'

Ten years ago, the US invaded Afghanistan to eliminate a terrorist haven and set up a stable government. But today, many Afghans don’t know why the US invaded, have never heard of 9/11, and are increasingly suspicious.

By Correspondent / September 9, 2011

Kabul shopkeeper Haji Mohammad Qul holds up a rug showing planes flying into the World Trade Center, a motif popular with American and European tourists. When asked, he professes to know little or nothing of the event it portrays.

Tom A. Peter

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Kabul, Afghanistan

Stacks of folded carpets line every wall of Haji Mohammad Qul's rug shop on Chicken Street, Kabul's shopping destination for foreigners in search of Afghan souvenirs.

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Though Mr. Qul sells predominately traditional Persian carpets, like most Chicken Street venders he offers a small selection of Sept. 11-themed rugs. These commemorative carpets are about the size of a doormat and feature crude, hand-woven images of planes striking the World Trade Center.

Despite selling several of these rugs each month, Qul says he doesn't really know where the image on them comes from or what Sept. 11 is.

"It's just an item in our shop that we sell to Americans and Europeans," he says with a shrug.

When pressed on what, if anything, he knows about the events of Sept. 11, 2001, he changes the subject to a drought in northwest Afghanistan. Asked again, his teenage son, who everyone says is the most educated person in the family, reminds him about Osama bin Laden.

Qul continues: "Yes, I think it's from bin Laden. We were refugees in Pakistan at that time, and I had to take care of my family.... I was too busy to pay attention to the political events in the news."

A decade after Sept. 11, Qul is just one of many Afghans who say they have heard almost nothing about the attacks that led to the fall of the Taliban government and an ongoing, 10-year foreign military presence in his country.

As US policymakers debate keeping troops in Afghanistan as far out as 2024, the void of information among large swaths of the Afghan population this deep into the war may cast doubt on the ability of the United States to effectively accomplish its goals here in the coming years.

"The foreigners absolutely did not communicate.... They only spoke with bombs and guns," says Najib Mamalai, an independent political analyst in Kabul. "They alienated every single human body in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and Iraq to their causes. Nobody believes in their cause now."

Following the Sept. 11 attacks, the US invaded Afghanistan in order to eliminate it as a terrorist haven and to install a government capable of creating the stability required to support this goal. The US has spent an estimated $450 billion on the war in Afghanistan, including more than $70 billion on development projects. Additionally, more than 1,750 US soldiers and almost 950 soldiers from allied nations have lost their lives here. More than 13,000 US soldiers have been wounded.

Have the Soviets left?

Although there has been significant development in Afghanistan during the past 10 years, much of the country remains cut off from the recent wave of progress.

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