KABUL (Reuters) – More than a thousand Afghans signed up on Thursday to say they wanted to go and fight Israel in the Gaza Strip, many of them blaming the United States which has some 30,000 troops in Afghanistan, for supporting the Jewish state.
Accusations by Taliban militants and some Muslim clerics that Israel and its main ally, the United States, aim to destroy Islam have a strong impact on public opinion in Afghanistan, where Washington plans to almost double its troop numbers this year.
Scores of young men crowded into the library of Kabul’s Milad ul-Nabi mosque, lined with banners reading “Death to Israel” and “Death to America,” to sign up to fight Israel.
“More than a thousand brave Afghans registered their names here to fight Israeli troops in Gaza,” said Habibullah Assam, the imam of the mosque and organizer of the campaign.
“Several hundred Afghans, including doctors and teachers, have also volunteered to give blood to help the miserable people of Palestine,” he said.
“The acts of Israel against the innocent Muslims of Gaza are barbaric and inhumane and widely helped by the Americans,” Assam said, adding that nearly 10,000 people across Afghanistan had so far volunteered to fight in Gaza.
One Afghan at the mosque said he fought in Chechnya in the 1990s after being trained by the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba Islamist militant group which India says is behind the Mumbai attacks.
“I have the military training and I will do whatever possible to go to Gaza to at least fire one bullet toward Israel,” Mohammad Ayaas said. “I will be the luckiest person to die beside my Muslim brothers fighting for an honorable cause.”
The 13-day Israeli operation against Hamas in Gaza led to protests in Afghanistan last week.
While reaching Gaza from Afghanistan is all-but impossible, many of the volunteers said they would take revenge on U.S. troops inside Afghanistan instead.
“Infidels are killing Muslims everyday and the United States is saying Israel’s offensive is just,” said Mohammad Akram, a shopkeeper. “If we can’t reach Gaza, we should seek revenge on Israel’s allies in our own country like the Taliban do.”
U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan are struggling to contain a virulent Taliban insurgency to expel them and topple the Western-backed Afghan government.
U.S. President-elect Barack Obama has vowed to make Afghanistan a foreign policy priority once he comes to office on January 20.
(Editing by Sugita Katyal)
By Hamid Shalizi
Thu Jan 8, 2009 2:34pm GMT