RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
In Afghanistan over the weekend, dozens of girls and young women were killed in an attack outside a school for girls in Kabul. Is this a sign of what's to come as U.S. forces withdraw? Here's NPR's Diaa Hadid.
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UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Non-English language spoken).
DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Sayed Ul-Shuhada school in Kabul was once a cheery place with a donated library and colorful murals.
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UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Non-English language spoken, laughter).
HADID: Then attackers struck.
Muhammad Hassan raced to the scene, searching among the dead and wounded to find his 17-year-old daughter, Tahira. He found her here at the Mohammad Ali Jinnah Hospital.
MUHAMMAD HASSAN: (Non-English language spoken).
HADID: She's in shock.
HASSAN: (Through interpreter) She laughs, and then she cries for an hour. She hits herself. She says the attack keeps coming back to her.
HADID: The Taliban once banned girls from attending school in Afghanistan. In the two decades since they were toppled, activists, officials and donors have tried to close the gap by building schools and making them safe for girls. So this attack was particularly devastating.
FRESHTA KARIM: I think I felt, like, my heart fell down off my chest. This war is now so brutal that no one is safe. Nothing is safe. The schools are not safe.
HADID: Freshta Karim operates five mobile libraries in Kabul. She wants to empower Afghan children through education.
KARIM: I have a moral dilemma right now. Should we ask children to go to school when the schools are not safe for them? Can we do that?
HADID: Many Afghan parents may well want to keep their girls home after this. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, and the Taliban deny any involvement. Following the bombing, they announced a three-day cease-fire for the upcoming holiday to mark the end of Ramadan. But that cease-fire is just for three days. And as American and foreign forces withdraw, Afghans fear their country is plunging into a more intense and complicated conflict.
TAMIM ASEY: The Afghan war is entering into a new phase. It is going to be a bloody, multilayered warfare which will have elements of proxy war, civil war and now a sectarian element.
HADID: Tamim Asey is the founder and executive chairman of the Kabul-based think tank the Institute of War and Peace Studies. And he says these girls were not just targeted because they're girls but because they're Shiite Muslims and an ethnic minority. The Hazara people have been targeted by Sunni extremists in the past. And the sectarian attack, Asey notes, comes at a perilous time because there's no turning back for American and foreign forces. They're leaving.
Michael Kugelman is a South Asia senior associate at the Wilson Center.
MICHAEL KUGELMAN: That threat emanating from Afghanistan is not sufficiently strong to warrant U.S. forces staying. As horrific as this attack was, this is not the type of thing that would cause the U.S. to change course because these are attacks that target Afghans.
HADID: In the meantime, some of the girls wounded in the attack are defiant. Even as father Muhammad Hassan worries over his daughter, Tahira, in the hospital, she says she's got a message for her sisters.
TAHIRA: (Non-English language spoken).
HADID: She says, "Don't bow down to this oppression. Continue school." She says she's going back, too, as soon as she can.
Diaa Hadid, NPR News.
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