FROM GROUND ZERO TO GROUND ZERO
MOYERS: Now for a different first-hand account of
the war's toll on civilians.
Soon after 9/11, the independent journalist Jon Alpert connected with a
young American citizen named Masuda Sultan, whose father brought her to New York
when she was five to escape the Soviet Union's invasion of their homeland. (Read an interview with Masuda Sultan)
The two of them, Jon Alpert and Masuda Sultan, headed to
Afghanistan searching for her extended family.
Here is an excerpt from their journey.
MASUDA SULTAN: On September 11, when the World Trade Center
collapsed, I felt disbelief and anger, like many Americans.
I'm also an Afghan, living in New York. My name is Masuda Sultan. I was born in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
I knew these events would have repercussions for my family
Looking down at Ground Zero, I want to rebuild it. I also want to go back to Kandahar and help them build there.
ALPERT: When Masuda said good-bye to her
sisters, she didn't know if she'd see them again.
She was on her way to a war zone halfway around the world. The first stop was Quetta, Pakistan. It's near many Afghan refugee camps.
Masuda wanted to visit the refugees because she had been
SULTAN: My family began leaving Afghanistan as a result of
the Soviet invasion, and those that didn't leave immediately started flowing out
over the last 23 years, and some of them have now left as a result of the U.S. bombing campaign.
ALPERT: Since Masuda was born, one-third of the
people in Afghanistan have become refugees.
These crossed into Pakistan in the last three months.
SULTAN (TRANSLATING FOR REFUGEE): He says it was very difficult to live there in the
He says he had four cousins that were killed in the U.S.
SULTAN: Do you all know what happened to the Americans on September, 11 and
what do you all think about that?
SULTAN (TRANSLATING FOR REFUGEE):Whether the deaths are in the United States or
Afghanistan, they are all a bad thing."
SULTAN: When I see those refugees here in... I can't help but think
that I could have very well been one of them.
Many of them come from Kandahar, the city that I'm from.
And it breaks my heart to see how much they're suffering
ALPERT: Next Masuda went to visit her cousins,
the most recent members of her family to become refugees.
They had been near Kandahar when the Americans started to
bomb. Now they were in Pakistan.
SULTAN: We're here at my cousin's house.
I'm really nervous about what we are going to hear about
ALPERT: Masuda had reason to be nervous.
Her cousin began listing all the family members who were
killed when the American planes attacked.
SULTAN (TRANSLATING FOR COUSIN): His daughter died, his daughter-in-law, his
brother, his nephew, one of his cousins, another cousin.
He says he lost three grandchildren and a nephew.
ALPERT: Everybody had been killed in a tiny
village named Chowkar.
Masuda's family explained why they had gone there.
SULTAN: They were living near government buildings in
Kandahar with Taliban close by.
They figured that the U.S. would target those buildings, so
they didn't want to get hurt by those so they moved outside of the city and went
to their farm just on the outskirts.
They were there for two weeks before they were hit. There was a low-flying plane, and they came out of their
houses and many of them were shot at.
ALPERT: The attack came on the night of October
Some wounds have healed; others never will.
SULTAN: This is the daughter that she lost.
This couple, they had four kids.
There's only one mother-in-law left out of the whole
All of these children were there running from the bullets,
and it's her leg, as well. That's another one of the bullets.
This is a daughter of one of my cousins. Her mom was killed, and that's her other sister over there.
There are 19 people in total, and one woman was four months
pregnant, so you can count it as 20.
The U.S. was demanding from the local Afghans that they show
them where the Al Qaeda forces were.
And that... because these Afghans were being paid large
sums of money, they had to come up with locations and people.
They were targeting people that they had no clue of their
guilt or innocence.
SULTAN (TRANSLATING): When the plane started shooting at them, they lost track of
where everyone was and it was chaotic.
He says that... he says that when they realized what had
happened, one of his sons yelled out that there are many sheep lying out here.
When they went to find out, they saw that it was
It was their family shot on the floor.
ALPERT: Masuda couldn't understand why her
family was attacked; they were cousins, and uncles, not Taliban.
So she set off to Afghanistan to find the village of
Chowkar and to find some answers.
SULTAN: We're now right on the border between Pakistan and
Afghanistan. We're crossing as we speak. We're now officially in Afghanistan. Welcome.
ALPERT: Chowkar is a 90- minute drive north of
Kandahar, in the middle of what looks like nowhere.
SULTAN: My family left the city, traveled through the
desert thinking no one would want to bomb around here. I mean, look at how desolate it is.
23 years of war for this land, I mean, look at it.
I think this is the village.
This is it.
This is it.
This is it.
Oh, my god.
ALPERT: On the night of the attack, there were
30 farmers here and 40 members of Masuda's family, including the ones we'd met
SULTAN: This is the village that my family came to, to
escape the city, where they thought they'd be targets.
Ironically, the target was here.
This is one of the craters created by a U.S. bomb. It's huge. They bombed about every three meters. There's craters all around us.
Trees have fallen. I can imagine them in flames. That's how... that's how my family described them.
SULTAN (TRANSLATING): That tree about ten meters up, they were hovering just
about that high.
When the women were hit, they would try to move out of the
way. They left a track of blood, the child right there next to
SULTAN: And they're trying to get away and this is what happened to
SULTAN (TRANSLATING): Can't you tell the difference between the Taliban and
the women from ten meters high?
ALPERT: Everyone told Masuda there were no
Taliban anywhere near the village, but how can you prove that somebody wasn't
SULTAN: This is my cousin's brother-in-law's house, and
they say that the only people left here are two little girls.
Everyone else was hit.This probably was the hardest hit house in this area.
Out of all these kids, these three kids were bombed right
here. These three kids became refugees, and these three kids
survived. Their mother and their father have died.
This is my cousin's room, Nasmiya.
Her daughter and her daughter-in-law died right here.
SULTAN (TRANSLATING): He says, "imagine what it must have been like for
those women and kids that were in these houses, running out of their houses in
the middle of the night, in the middle of the desert, not knowing which way to
run towards, and being in shot in the head by these people."
ALPERT: They were being shot at?
SULTAN: Yeah, they were being shot at.
ALPERT: By whom?
SULTAN TRANSLATING: By the Americans.
his is the child that I have left.
What am I to do now?
My wife was killed, my children were killed.
This is the one that's left.
He says, "They bombed our houses.
May their houses be bombed, as well."
SULTAN: I don't agree with him.
I think nobody should have to experience this.
And if you're going to wish for something, you may as well
wish for the best-- for this to be rebuilt and maybe for this to never happen
The consequences of September 11 range much farther than we
could ever expect, both in New York and here in Afghanistan.
My family was here.
ALPERT: About 40 miles from Chowkar is the main
base for the U.S. Military.
SULTAN: We're pulling up to the gate of the base here in
I'm going to find out what happened to my family in Chowkar.
SULTAN: I have a question.
AMERICAN SOLDIER: Okay.
SULTAN: Firstly, I want to say I appreciate the efforts of
yourself and everyone here in ousting the Taliban.
I'd like to know what happened in that village in
Chowkar in the middle of the night. Apparently there was some kind of an attack by the U.S. Nineteen members of my family were killed. They were offered no explanation. It's been about two months, and I'm wondering if you've had
time to investigate that.
AMERICAN SOLDIER: We weren't even on the ground at that juncture.
So, you know, a question of that nature, you'd probably
either have to contact U.S. Central command or D.O.D. as far as to the specifics
of what happened.
SULTAN: How low can this helicopter be?
How close to the ground can it be when it's shooting?
AMERICAN SOLDIER #1: It can be as low as it needs to be, really.
SULTAN: My family said there was a helicopter hovering
over as it was attacking.
AMERICAN SOLDIER #2: More than likely it might have been one of the
special forces type aircraft we have around here.
SULTAN: It's unbelievable all the wreckage you have around
It's got to be kind of strange working in these conditions.
AMERICAN SOLDIER #3: Especially knowing what happened to the Soviets,
how quick they pulled up to leave all this stuff behind.
Every time I start missing home or something I just think
back about what happened.
I'm from New Jersey.
I've been to the World Trade Center hundreds of times.
Every time I get homesick, I think about that.
SULTAN: I want to say thank you for ousting the Taliban
and for keeping us Americans at home safe, but my family was killed in this,
too, and they were killed by Americans, American soldiers.
AMERICAN SOLDIER #4: It'd be kind of difficult to put it into
perspective, I suppose, but I know what our intent was when we came here, and that was to try to free the Afghani people from the treachery
of the Taliban.
SULTAN: What's the logic for targeting this little village
in the middle of nowhere with no Arabs, you know, no Al Qaeda forces, no Taliban?
AMERICAN SOLDIER: Couldn't tell you, don't know.
Don't have any information on it.
SULTAN: Bye, guys, bye-bye.
After visiting with those guys, the only thing that has been
cleared up for me was the intent wasn't to hurt civilians.
But why they would kill those people? I don't know.
MOYERS: And the truth, as in any war, is difficult
Before airing that report we talked to a representative of the organization Human
Rights Watch. He interviewed three families of survivors of Chowkar and said he
turned up no evidence that Taliban were in or around the village at the time.
But we also called the Pentagon.
The spokesman says nothing has appeared to change the
original explanation, that Chowkar had been "a validated military
target," was a Taliban facility with tents on the outskirts sheltering
Two reports, each different.