On August 24th, a few members of the Taliban attacked the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul. To get to this school, first they attacked another school located just next door, killing an unarmed man and driving their truck up to another wall. After that blew a hole in the campus defenses, they ran inside, killing as many as they could and gleefully celebrating the fact that they were killing defenseless students and excited to go to heaven for doing so. Ultimately, they killed 13 people.
Working at the university from 2010 to 2014 was a privilege and an honor that I've yet to figure out how to put into words. I'll need to save trying to describe that for another post, now that sufficient time has passed so as to allow for wholesome reflection (1).
So when I heard it was attacked, it was the latest in a very long line of events that hit the heart in ways that are similarly hard to describe. It was my home, and I have fond memories of several of those lost. After losing so many friends and colleagues in Iraq and Afghanistan - Iraqis, Afghans, and Americans - you even wonder how to mourn. As they untether from your life, your eyes close and the heart, no matter how hardened, grows weak as you exhale and slouch. You don't even care about the 'why' after a point - you care only that you fiercely grip your memory of them and never let it slide until you too uncouple.
On September 9th, I attended a moving event at the Afghan Embassy in Washington, DC to remember the victims. The current Afghan Ambassador to the US is, in fact, a former employee of the American University of Afghanistan, as is his wife. Other former and current employees alongside supporters of the university assembled. It was painful and beautiful, with crying and laughter as their lives were remembered.
And here they are, more names to tack on the list:
Naqib Khpulwak had studied at Nangarhar University and received a Fulbright to study at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. He was also a visiting scholar at Stanford University's Law School. He was a leader in the Afghan legal community, and was preparing to begin his PhD studies at Oxford University. Naqib also helped the US Institute of Peace and their work on community courts and constitutional issues. He constantly engaged the diaspora community, telling them to return and help instead of staying abroad and watching. He had also memorized the Quran and was a passionate follower of cricket.
A guard at the neighboring Blind School behind AUAF since 2006, he died in the attack, leaving behind a four year old daughter and one year old son. He owned no property and lived simply, giving all of his money to his family.
23 years old, in his final semester studying law at campus. Hailing from Badakhshan province, he had attended high school in the US thought a State Department scholarship program and was a member of the advisory board of the newly established civil society organization Roshan (Brightness), and was interested in becoming a politician.
26 years old, from Mazar-e Sharif, in her final year of study, majoring in Finance. Being raised in Pakistan during the Taliban regime, she returned and finished high school in Kabul after their overthrow. She had already obtained a degree in computer science from Kabul University, and was studying finance to help provide women with real skills to help them open small businesses.
18 years old, had just begun his studies the day before the attack. A talented musician from a poor family, Sami had performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, and wanted to represent Afghan music as a cultural ambassador from Afghanistan.
28 years old, from Kabul, studying Political Science. He worked at Etisalat, a large communications company, during the day to support his family. Zubair frequently led students as an imam in communal prayers and was described by all as humble.
From Baghlan, he completed the Policy Academy in 2008 and joined the Special Police Unit, eventually passing up the ranks until he completed the Special Forces Selection training, becoming the CRU 222 Troop Commander. During the attack at AUAF, he tasked one team to clear the ground floor while he and the rest of his team climbed a ladder to the second floor, carefully clearing classroom by classroom and saving hundreds of lives. As he turned corner, one attacker was hiding and managed to fire several rounds at Lt. Akbar before being killed. He was one of Afghanistan's top commanders, and his colleagues referred to him as 'Achilles.'
Had worked as an unarmed security guard at the university since 2008, and leaves behind four children, aged seven, five, four and eight-months old. He was hoping to save enough money to help his younger brother, a university student, purchase a laptop.
22 years old, Mujtaba had raised $4,000 for the victims of snow avalanches in his home province of Panjshir last year. He had hoped to become a pilot, and ran a charitable program where he gave books to street children and taught them how to read. He had been raised in Pakistan during the Taliban regime but returned after their overthrow.
26 years old, and had just begun a business administration course at AUAF. Walid was also the director of the NGO Afghanistan Libre, an education-focused NGO that was particularly committed to female education, as well as the manager of the publication Mujaleh Roze.
18 years old, and the daughter of a refugee street vendor in Pakistan who had saved up enough money to afford Elnaz the trip to Kabul after she was admitted on a scholarship to study at AUAF. She had just started her BA in Political Science, and studying at AUAF had been her dream for a decade.
Had worked at AUAF as an unarmed security guard since 2008. He leaves behind three children, aged nine, seven and a newborn. He was saving money to send his mother on the Hajj pilgrimage and cover medical expenses for one of his sons, which has a medical disability.
Worked as an unarmed security guard since 2012, and was born in 1986 in Maidan Wardak. The caretaker and provider for his two brothers, his hope was to study information technology at AUAF to eventually work in the country's growing IT sector. He had been hoping to get married.
Rest in peace.
(1) I'm truly grateful I took notes every single day I was there. Reading them in dusty journals stacked in a corner of my apartment is to travel in time and live somewhere else for a moment.