AZIZABAD, Afghanistan – Once the Americans left, the survivors started digging.
There were too many dead and not enough shovels, so a local politician brought in heavy machinery from a nearby construction site. He dug graves deep enough to fit mothers with children, or children with children. Some were still in their pajamas, their hands inked with henna tattoos from the party preparations the night before.
Villagers picked through the rubble of what had been an entire neighborhood, looking for remains to wrap in white linens for burial. A boy clutching a torn rug walked in a daze on top of the ruins. A young man collapsed in grief by a pile of mud bricks where his home once stood – where his wife and four children had been sleeping inside.
The local doctor recorded a cellphone video to document the dead faces, freckled with shrapnel and blood, coated with dust and debris. Some were Afghan men of fighting age, but most – dozens of them – were women and children. Taza was 3 years old. Maida was 2. Zia, 1.
The hot summer wind kicked up dust, smoke and the smell of gunpowder as villagers tried to make sense of why their remote village was demolished by an American airstrike in the middle of the night.
A clue was found near several of the dead Afghan fighters: ID badges from the private security company at the American-controlled airfield up the road.
Why had a team of U.S. soldiers and Marines battled its own paid security detail?
After more than a decade, those who buried their families still don’t know.
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