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A Winter's Tale: Afghans Take Pride In Turning Away Occupiers

Editor's note: The Obama administration is talking today of fragile progress in Afghanistan. Here's a story from there about a typical Afghan's view.

Afghans have a winter tradition that goes back centuries -- they put hot coals in a pot under a table and put a quilt over that. It's called a sandali. Everyone sticks their feet under the blanket and the freezing temperatures don't seem so bad -- as long as you don’t leave the table. Stories help pass the time

"We'd sit around the sandali and my grandfather told stories while we ate raisins and dried mulberries." says Sayed Mushtaba Frotan, a 54-year-old former guerrilla fighter.

"He said the British came to occupy us. Genghis Khan came here to occupy us. Our champions defeated them. Our champions made history," says Frotan, who himself fought the Soviets through the 1980s with the mujahedeen. Then, he took up against the Taliban through the 1990s as a fighter with the Northern Alliance. Now, he's happier sitting around the sandali himself, with his grandchildren.

Nahazatullah is seven years old and his brother Hekmatullah is 10. The boys watch quietly as their grandfather tells stories.  What would you like to be when you get older?

" Angineer," says Nahazatullah.

" Doctar," says his brother.

Taking a walk along some of his old battle haunts, Frotan isn't sure what to make of the history unfolding around him.

As he walks, two American attack helicopters buzz-low overhead, bristling with guns and rockets. They’re flying out of Bagram Air Field near his home in the Shomali plains, north of Kabu. Higher overhead, two American bomber-jets dance a tango, twisting their white trails together. As the noise fades, two magpies chase each other through the brush next to the remnants of a trench, where Frotan says a Soviet tank round killed a friend of his, when the man peeked his head too high over the ditch.

Frotan says he’s not sure about the Americans -- they seem to be helping, but he also suspects they want to stay here for a long time. He remembers his grandfather's advice around the fire.

"He said if our soil and country is occupied, we should wage jihad and make history," says the old fighter. And his grandsons?

"If their country is invaded, if their religion is attacked, then they prefer to fight or be martyred in this way, than to go to school," says Frotan, and the boys eagerly agree.

NPR's Quil Lawrence is based in Kabul. He was one of the correspondents who earlier this month filed a series of stories forAll Things Considered about how things are going in Afghanistan and that nation's history. Among their stories was this report headlined "For Invaders, A Well-Worn Path Out Of Afghanistan." You can hear more from Sayed Mushtaba Frotan in that story.

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Quil Lawrence is a New York-based correspondent for NPR News, covering veterans' issues nationwide. He won a Robert F. Kennedy Award for his coverage of American veterans and a Gracie Award for coverage of female combat veterans. In 2019 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America honored Quil with its IAVA Salutes Award for Leadership in Journalism.