Michel Rentenaar, Civil Leader of Task Force Uruzgan and Director of the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Uruzgan, describes his emotions in the aftermath of a tragic accident that resulted in the death of an Afghan boy.
The weather in Uruzgan has been awful for days. Cold, a lot of rain and an enormous amount of mud. Last Thursday a Dutch armoured vehicle hit a roadside bomb in the Baluchi Valley, injuring two soldiers. The following day another armoured vehicle leaves from the base in Chora, to the north of the Baluchi Valley to salvage the damaged vehicle. At the so-called Chora crossing, a snow chain has to be attached to get through the thick mud.
A couple of kilometres further up, the road is drier, but conditions are still bad, and the armoured vehicle is driving at walking pace. Two boys on a donkey are riding alongside the vehicle. So far so good. Once past the vehicle, something suddenly scares the donkey and throws off one of the boys, who falls underneath the vehicle and is killed. His name was Rahmatullah.
The death of a child. What a tragic thing to happen, whether it’s here in Uruzgan, at home in the Netherlands, or indeed anywhere else. As a father, I think of my own children, but also of the driver, who couldn’t do anything to prevent this senseless accident. I find out that the boy came from a small village called Khalilai, to the north of the two Awi’s (two villages with the same name) and that his father is called Ismatullah. He didn’t go to school, because there’s no school in his village.
I don’t have much time to dwell on this broken life. The governor must be phoned immediately to offer our condolences. Also the district chief Mohammed Daoud must be informed. Both express their appreciation for the fact that we have informed them directly. The operations room of Task Force Uruzgan is in direct contact with the patrols in the field. The personnel ask if medical help is needed, and provide information on the situation in the neighbourhood – is there a danger of an angry reaction from the public?
Grain and sheep
Meanwhile the legal advisor in the camp is investigating what are the possibilities for paying out financial compensation to the family. The most important thing is that contact must be made with the parents of the child. We must let them know as soon as possible of our sorrow at what has happened. The mission team of the Provincial Reconstruction Team get to work immediately.
In consultation with district chief Mohammed Daoud we decide that following the three days of mourning that the family will observe, the mission team along with various important leaders of the community will pay a visit to the family. In accordance with Afghan tradition, some sacks of grain and a sheep will be offered to the family, along with financial compensation. Such an offer feels strange to us, but for the Afghans it’s a token of sympathy and sorrow. Meanwhile we still have to phone the police chief of the district to discuss if there’s anything further he can do.
During a so-called ‘upscale' that we also use whenever there are Dutch wounded, we reconstruct the exact course of events that led to the incident. According to standard procedure, the detachment of military police are charged with the responsibility of carrying out the enquiry into the accident. The social medical team in the camp prepare themselves to deliver psychological care to the Dutch who were involved.
The death of a child – what a tragedy. I think of the family who have to sit in their cold house mourning the loss of their child. I think also of the young Dutch men who were performing their duties, but came up against their biggest enemy through sheer bad luck.
(RNW translation: as)
Picture: A Dutch armoured vehicle being repaired in Uruzgan. Photo (c) Dutch Ministry of Defence.