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What Alicia Watkins remembers more than anything is the flags. Weeping, and wiping her eyes, she stood before the Stars and Stripes at half mast on Monday and spoke of being in the Pentagon on September 11 five years go.
“Most importantly, I remember in the midst of it all we still hung our American flag,” the army staff sergeant said at the main U.S. base in Kabul, Camp Eggers.
“That did something to me. I recognized what type of stuff that we come from. I recognized the strength and the courage that flow through American blood. Quite naturally, people ask me what do I take from September 11, what the memories that I have.
“My memories are not of the devastation. My memories are of the people who came up to me afterwards who said: ‘You know, I really didn’t appreciate firefighters and policemen and military members but I wanted to let you know I appreciated what you do.”
About 200 people, some standing on the roofs of buildings, and many crying, gathered for the brief morning ceremony, the first in Afghanistan marking Monday’s anniversary of the hijacked airliner attacks in 2001 on New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington.
Dignitaries in suits mixed with privates in camouflage and carrying guns. A lone woman sang the American anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” in a high, haunting gospel voice, unaccompanied in the cool autumn air.
VIOLENCE AT PEAK
But five years on, Afghanistan is wracked by more violence than at any time since the U.S. invasion in 2001 which ousted Afghanistan’s Taliban authorities to punish them for sheltering September 11 mastermind Osama bin Laden.
More than 2,000 people have died in fighting this year and NATO, which has taken over from U.S.-led forces in the south, where the Taliban was born and is strongly supported by locals, has launched its biggest offensive in a bid to crush the rebels.
The alliance says it has killed more than 400 rebels since it began Operation Medusa more than a week ago. The Taliban disputes the casualty figures.
President Hamid Karzai, derided by critics as the “Mayor of Kabul” by critics, cannot even move safely around the capital and his government has little control over much of the countryside.
“We understand the tremendous loss you endured that day for we also have suffered for long at the hands of terrorism,” Karzai said in a statement.
He did not leave his palace for Monday morning’s ceremony and was not due to attend another at the main U.S. base in the country, Bagram, late on Monday at the exact hour of the September 11 attacks.
“For many years, the Afghan people were held hostage in their own country, and subjected to unspeakable atrocities by foreign terrorists and their Taliban friends.
“The suffering of the Afghan people was neglected and our pleas to the world to confront the growing threat of terrorism remained unheard.”