KABUL, Afghanistan — The last memory Wahid Shafaie has before losing consciousness was walking into class with his older brother Hamid, and sitting down with his algebra book to start a lesson.
“When the bomb exploded, my back hit the wall very hard,” Wahid told VICE News, standing inside the bombed-out school. ”I fell back down on the ground. My ears were making terrible noises.”
Minutes earlier, a teenage suicide bomber had entered the college-prep class at Mawoud Academy in west Kabul and detonated an explosive belt. It was one of the deadliest suicide bombings to hit Kabul in recent years — at least 34 students were killed and 57 injured. All the victims were under 19 years old.
ISIS claimed responsibility for the August 15 bombing in Dasht-e-Barchi, a Shia neighborhood in west Kabul. The head of the U.N. children's agency UNICEF condemned the attack, calling it "deplorable.”
“There was dust everywhere. There were dead bodies and injured people,” Wahid said. “I hadn’t seen blood in all my life until this explosion. I saw people without a head and their intestines were pouring out.”
The blast burned Wahid’s arm, and ruptured his eardrums, but miraculously he survived. His brother was killed instantly.
Wahid searched through the rubble for hours, looking for any sign of his brother, before trying the nearby Ali Abad hospital. There his body lay alongside dozens of other students who were killed in the attack.
“I couldn't recognize my brother by his face,” Shafaie, 17, said. “I knew he was my brother by his clothes.”
Attacks on so-called “soft targets” like these have become increasingly common across Afghanistan as the government struggles to contain both ISIS and the Taliban, which rejected peace talks with the government in August.
Civilians are paying the price. According to a U.N. report published Wednesday, civilian casualties in Afghanistan are reaching record levels. This year saw the most civilian deaths in a nine-month period since 2014.
From Jan. 1 to Sept. 10, 2018, 2,798 civilians were killed and 5,252 were injured — a 5 percent increase over last year. The majority of the casualties resulted from suicide bombs and complex attacks, which have grown more frequent this year.
For Wahid, the impact from the blast still haunts him. “I have nightmares every night and I can’t get any sleep,” he said.
His parents have decided it’s too dangerous for him to return to school.
“We are not even safe in our own homes. The situation has become very bad. And in these past two years, it's much worse — even schools [are attacked],” said his mother, Fatima Shafaie. “It's very saddening. What does war have to do with children's schooling? Our children are not even safe going to school anymore.”
Parents like Fatima are on high alert. Parliamentary elections, set for Oct. 20, will use more than 1,000 schools as polling stations, and there is a growing concern that they’ll be targeted.
“I do not have hope that there will be peace in Afghanistan,” Fatima said. “The situation has gotten a lot worse. I don't see any chance for peace. For me, peace in Afghanistan is now nothing but a dream.”
Cover image: Family members mourn the death of 17-year-old Madina Laali, a 12th grader who was killed when her college prep class was attacked by a suicide bomber inside Mawoud Academy in west Kabul on Aug. 15, 2018. Madina died two days later from blast-related injuries. (Adam Desiderio/VICE News)