he Sept. 11 attacks that triggered the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan also uprooted 16-year-old Abdul Ghattar from his village in war-torn Helmand province, bringing him to a desolate refugee camp on the edge of Kabul.
Yet Mr. Ghattar stared blankly when asked whether he knew about al Qaeda’s strike on the U.S., launched a decade ago from Afghan soil.
“Never heard of it,” he shrugged as he lined up for water at the camp’s well, which serves thousands of fellow refugees. “I have no idea why the Americans are in my country.”
In a nearby tent that is the camp’s school, his teacher, 22-year-old Mullah Said Nabi Agha, didn’t fare much better. He said he has never seen the iconic image of the Twin Towers burning. He was vaguely aware that some kind of explosion had occurred in America.
“I was a child when it happened, and now I am an adult, and the Americans are still here,” Mr. Agha said. “I think the Americans did it themselves, so they could invade Afghanistan.”
The teacher’s view is by no means rare here. The events of Sept. 11, 2001, of course, are known to educated Afghans, and to many residents of big cities. But that isn’t always the case elsewhere in a predominantly rural country where 42% of the population is under the age of 14, and 72% of adults are illiterate. With few villages reached by television or electricity, news here is largely spread by word of mouth.
Such opinions highlight a contrast between American and Afghan perspectives on the longest foreign war in U.S. history, one that killed thousands of Afghans and, at the latest count, claimed the lives of 1,760 U.S. troops.
They also explain the Taliban’s ability to rally popular support—in part by seizing the narrative to portray the war not as one triggered by America’s need for self-defense, but as one of colonial aggression by infidels lusting for Afghanistan’s riches.
“The Islamic Emirate wages a lawful struggle for the defense of its religion, country and soil,” the Taliban’s leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, told Afghans last month on the occasion of the Islamic Eid al-Fitr holiday.
According to a survey of 15- to 30-year-old men in the two southern provinces where President Barack Obama sent the bulk of American surge troops, 92% of respondents said they didn’t know about “this event which the foreigners call 9/11” after being read a three-paragraph description of the attacks.
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