If you have just arrived at The Library in Purgatory, the first chapter is here.


"I never found the girl, I never got rich. Follow me."

~Leonard Cohen

Friday, April 3, 2009

Chapter VI.3


...With No Regard for my Personal Safety




“Besides a common religion, Islam, only foreign invaders— from Alexander the Great to the British in the 19th century, and the Soviets in the 20th — have united the Afghans.” —Insight Magazine, 9 April, 1990




Everything is Kaput…

Our camp was located next door to a small FOB of Army ETTs who were working with the ANA at the KMTC. A new unit had rotated in and they were really a good group. They showed up with only their basic combat load— six 30-round magazines for their M4s and I have no idea how much 9mm for their M-9s. I couldn’t believe it. They had no extra ammo for checking their zeros or fam firing anything after arriving in country. It was just unbelievable to me. Because of all the training we did we were probably one of the largest ammo dumps outside of Bagram and we loaned them several cases of 5.56 and a bunch of 7.62 and 5.56 link until they could get their own supplies. They made a damn funny video though.


video


These guys worked as small teams of trainers/advisors with the ANA from basic training to more advanced squad/platoon/company operations. Often it would only be a few army guys with a platoon, or more, of ANA Afghans. They always had to watch their backs because you never knew if any of the guys you were training were going to be gunning for you. Maybe some were Taliban recruits, or the air force bombed someone’s village and killed his family, or you simply offended a guy’s sense of honor in dressing him down in front of his peers and the next day he was unloading a full AK mag in your general direction. Either way, not copasetic. And that didn’t include the Afghan on Afghan tribal/clan shenanigans that popped up from time to time. Even at the height of the fight against the Russians, when the Afghans weren’t fighting the Russians they were often fighting each other, for a variety of reasons.


video


I remember the FOB guys telling us one day how a couple of ANA guys had been killed at Pul-e-Charki and the whole place almost went up in a mini-civil war after the commander rounded up teapots/hot plates (for chai) and the soldiers went through the roof, running around with AKs and RPGs threatening to kill everyone till they got their damn teapot/hotplate back. Seems that the Afghan enlisted had been commandeering hotplates/teapots from the DFAC whose manager finally had had enough when all the hotplates/teapots were gone and complained the garrison commander. The garrison commander sent a group of ANA around to round up all the AWOL hotplates/teapots in the barracks and return them to the DFAC. One squad had, allegedly, pooled their money and had bought their own hotplate/teapot and when the ANA group collecting all the hotplates/teapots tried to take theirs the guys leveled their AKs and RPGs at them and contested the issue. The ETT guys on site beat feet outta there and several hours and at least two ANA dead later, calm and hotplates/teapots had been restored. Madness.


And those are the “good” guys. There is little about Afghanistan that is “cookie-cutter”; we have taken on an interesting set of problems to try and solve and the longer I’m here the less certain I am that reality-as-we-know-it spends any time here. One of these days there’s going to be an accounting, a reckoning; not for those who have tried to make this madness work, but for those who sent them in the first place. There will, I suspect, be much finger-pointing and ill-will on that day and this country won’t look much different than it does now.


attempts to draw Afghan businesses into the war effort have backfired. One local start-up company assigned to do basic weapons maintenance for the Afghan Army tried to use hammers and nails to hold grenade launchers together and ultimately had to be trained by an American contractor.

The Americans are sometimes stymied by delays in training that sprout unexpectedly from profound cultural differences. Costly delays in the building of barracks for new recruits, for example, are a result not just of scarce labor and materials, but also of time-consuming repairs of damage that occurs as soon as the troops move into their new quarters. Afghan soldiers reportedly ripped sinks from barrack walls and used them to wash their feet before praying, an important custom. They also built fires on barrack floors for heating and cooking, even in buildings with furnaces and kitchens, according to the reports.”



27JUL05

Letter to J. Peterman


Scrawby,


Sitting on the steps of the bar tonight; A/C on my back and warm evening air to my front, a relatively cold gin and tonic sans lime in my hand listening to road trip music and watching Venus plunge into the Hindu Kush after the sun.


It all transports me back to a different time and I once again yearn for the freedom of the open road in a Jeep without a top, the best fucking music in the world, and a blistering red-caked canyon at the end of that road. Is there anything better, especially when you have Dana 60’s? The road is calling me and it’s calling me hard. Yet, like everyone else, for now, I am a slave to the man…


I can see her looking fast in her faded jeans, she’s a hard-loving woman got me feeling mean…”


Yeah, it’s hard to beat Gordon Lightfoot when it comes to some things.


When this place gets de-mined, we will take the mother of all Afghan Road Trips, the place will blow your mind.


In any case, until then, I am looking forward to a Canyonlands tip with ya, so save your vacation ‘cause we will go loco.


*****


The ideal of the swordsman is to become one with his sword— where the man is the sword and the sword is the man.


But when he has realized that, the next ideal is that the sword is in his heart— that with his hands bare it was as if he were armed with his sword.


But the highest ideal is that the sword is neither in the warrior’s hands nor in his heart— he is at peace with his surroundings.


—from Hero



Shameless Product Plug

We were driving back from Bagram late one afternoon, had just made a left, clearing the main street there, or what passes for it (bomb alley) and now had a straight, if winding, shot back to Kabul. We had been stuck behind two trucks of Italian Rangers and now with the open road ahead I sped up to pass on the left. The Italians in the back of the truck watched us as we approached— you do things to make sure that others with guns recognize that you are not a threat and going to attack them— and we waved. And then in that slow, surreal time I watched as something small and black fell out of the truck, hit the road, bounced and began to rapidly rise towards our windshield. There wasn’t time to swerve and we luckily managed to catch it in grill of our Pajero where it bounced off towards the side of the road. I looked at Geezer out of the corner of my eye, hands tight on the wheel,


“Was that what the fuck I think it was?”


“It sure looked like it to me.”


I’m glad it didn’t go off.”


“Yeah, that coulda been bad.”


The two trucks of Italians were falling away behind us, having pulled over on the side of the road, one lone ranger jumping out and running to retrieve his pistol where it had come to rest in the dirt amongst the camel shit and ever-possible mines. So that’s why all those high-speed BW guys have lanyards on their pistols, I thought, ‘cause they can’t keep the fucking things in their holsters. Shame. Don’t have those problems with Kramer Leather.


The rest of the drive was uneventful and not worth mentioning, which are the best kind here.


video



The Barron


As the fire burned low,

red embers twinkling

in the night and cigar smoke—

the little brown and white

Afghan hound

asleep at my feet

and Bob Marley singing

faintly in my right ear—

an unholy, guttural chanting

arose to the south.

The voice of many men

martial in nature

and hard in intent.

It was then

that I saw him,

atop Cistern Hill,

bedecked in foghat

with white, painted face

and dark eyes—

Samhedi.

The pup at my feet

growled low

hair raised along her neck.

“Whole world

is Babylon,”

he laughed deeply

a large grin

splitting his face

white teeth like so many tombstones,

“mercenary,”

he bowed with a flourish

doubled over

sweeping his feet

with his hat

“the crossroads lead

to the heart

of darkness.

Be ye ware

that yo feet

do not

stray

from the path

for it is certain,”

and then he was gone—

the faithful hound

now up on all fours

testing the breeze

warily.

I slowly lowered

the tin of red wine

staring up at the Afghan

sky

in wonder and foreboding

as the first mortars

streaked darkly

across the bed

of twinkling stars.



There I was…

Jalalabad Road, Jbad Road, or just “Jbad” ran east from Kabul to Jalalabad. It was the only road that ran from the east side of Kabul (Pul-e-Charki), where our camp was, into central Kabul (the Microrayan, an old, Russian-built housing complex, and Airport Road).


I don’t even have the words to describe the road or driving on it, which became known as the “Jbad Experience”. It had been paved, at some time I assume, but years of heavy military traffic (especially tracked vehicles) combined with the extreme weather had reduced much of it, particularly the eastern outskirts, into dirt hard-pack of the worst kind. Some of the potholes were unbelievable and sections of the road were nearly impassible— the potholes having potholes having potholes and the washboard so bad it would jar your teeth out at any speed over a slow crawl.


It was pretty much the norm for everyone to simply drive on whatever side of the road they believed was going to provide the smoothest ride possible, regardless of traffic flow and the road was often crammed with the ubiquitous yellow and white taxis, jingle-trucks, donkey-drawn carts, bicycles, and anything else you can imagine, including an occasional camel. Sections of it were bounded by deep ditches as well as stretches of open-front adobe huts/stalls selling just freshly killed goats and an unknown orange soda that were restrictively close to the road. Many of them were heated by propane and I never got comfortable with the legion of big, blue propane bottles standing so close to the road. Luckily, for us none of them ever blew up; but still, they didn’t give ya a warm fuzzy. In the winter and spring the road was practically a river of mud and in the summer the dust was blinding.


In regards to the latter, roughly sixty percent of the dust in Kabul was made up of fecal matter from the ubiquitous open sewers and toilets. Every six months we all underwent a regimen of de-worming medication, whether we thought we needed it or not; and at night in the winter the smog from the inversion layer was so bad that you felt like you were choking to death on all the exhaust from the cars and diesel generators that provided the majority of the electricity in the city. It was not a healthy place to live; and that’s when people weren’t trying to kill you.


That road though, it ate up cars. We had more vehicle breakdowns and incidents on that road than I can remember. Once, coming back from the airport and fixing to pass a military convoy, always a risky enterprise, the hood of our Suburban snapped its latch and flew up blocking all view except for a slit at the very bottom of the windshield. We managed to stop without hitting any goats, donkeys, or kids and I’m in the middle of the road gundecking a repair with a couple of zip-ties. Those things are invaluable! I have made more emergency repairs with those than anything else as well as flex-cuffing a couple of individuals of questionable and dubious intent. Don’t leave home without them.


The Fence Line from Hell

Another time the right-front strut of our Pajero completely snapped, the wheel folding under the car. We were completely alone as the car slid to a stop, pulling hard to the right. I looked at Adub, neither of us sure at first what had just happened. As soon as we climbed out of the Pajero we were surrounded by Afghan kids; they’re everywhere but you never see them until you stop and then it’s a flood of laughing and smiling, “Hey mista, hey mista, give me dolla, give me candee…” The kids are like magpies and will steal anything that they think they can get their hands on and away with. They always amused me but they weren’t good for security and it sucked bad enough sitting on the side of the road with a broke-down SUV. A Jingle truck came by, going the other way, the kids were on the other side of the road, and Adub used it as cover and ran across the road unseen, jumping out from behind it and roaring at them. They hadn’t seen him coming and took off screaming in terror back to wherever they’d come out of hiding from. For about five minutes it was quiet and then they were back, smiling, jabbering, and grab-assing like nothing had happened.


Eventually Orson, escorted by other members of our team, made it down with a forklift and began towing the wounded Pajero back to camp. In executive protection, one of the skills that you spend some time practicing is the “fence line” where your client walks along a line of people, shaking hands, or a fence. We had a fence to one side of the road, but never in a million years did I think I’d be walking along Jbad Road in what was essentially a fence line setup, protecting our damn Pajero and the forklift that was towing it at an ungodly slow pace.


70 MPH, airborne and sideways on Jbad Road…

The other time that stands out is when Midday and I were making a run down Jbad Road to Camp Phoenix to pick up mail for our camp. The road was in particularly bad shape and it had been unconsciously agreed upon that simply driving as fast as we could over the washboard and potholes was going to be the least painful way of going that day. It was a Pajero again; one of our right-hand drive ones, which I like better, being right-handed, as I don’t have to carry my rifle off-handed to cover my arcs in the vehicle, Midday was driving.


Someone, assuredly an idiot, once said that you should do something that scares you at least once a day so you know you have lived, I found out that driving down Jbad Road with Midday scared me and I did a lot of living that day. The typical bone-jarring ride from the washboard was indeed minimized that trip, mainly because the wheels spent a minimal time in contact with the road. Early on I managed to wedge myself in and brace myself as best I could, and made a damn honest effort to not look at where we were going, mainly because I didn’t want to know. Midday, jaw clenched, was deathly intent on the road, traffic, and potholes and from the couple of quick glances I snuck, looked like he was alternately steering with the wheel and hanging onto it.


We were both silent, I may have held my breath the whole way, and the only sounds were from the constant, terrible whining of the engine as it spun improbably up and down the RPM range, most of it in the red; the unhappy and desperate scrabbling of the tires for some kind of traction in the dirt and gravel as wheel came close to rolling over rim, when they were even in contact with the road; the unusually quiet whistling of the wind past my open window; and the incredible awe and amazement of Afghans, those who even managed to catch a glimpse of us hurtling past them, expressed in a long, collective inhalation that made your ears pop with the pressure change, at a sight the likes of which they had never seen before.


It has been said that there is no louder sound than a ‘click’ when you are expecting a ‘boom’ and I can speak for the veracity of the statement because the sound that was suddenly, deafeningly louder than anything else, was the complete lack of the any sound coming from the SUV. The Pajero coasted noiselessly to a stop in the middle of the road, suddenly loud with the sound of Afghan traffic. I looked over at Midday, took a breath, and we both started laughing. There wasn’t even a ‘click’ as Midday turned the key in the ignition. I climbed out my door, legs wobbly, and took up an overwatch position as Midday climbed under the hood.


After a few minutes the Pajero, grudgingly came to life amid much hissing and squealing belts and we gimped into Camp Phoenix, waved through the gate by a smiling Rambo. I never thought I’d wish that someone would shoot at me to take my mind off whatever it was that I happened to be doing. The insane thought crossed my mind that day on Jbad Road.



05SEP05

You sir, have become too civilized. The road trip is about casting all aside that is meaningless; a fresh start, a cleansing of the soul, communion, friendship, challenge, and discovering all things that civilized people don’t like or have the time for. The adventure isn’t in the destination but in getting there. If it were otherwise, everyone would die as soon as they were born.



Volleyball

Everywhere I’ve been in this country, while I have occasionally seen soccer fields and cricket pitches, both field and pitch used in the loosest sense of the word here, I have always seen at least one, and often more, volleyball nets. It seems improbable but the Afghans love volleyball. It boggles my mind, not that they like the game, I mean hell, who doesn’t, but that volleyball somehow made its way over the Hindu Kush and found a receptive audience here.


I can’t explain it. They love it here. It makes no sense to me. Someday maybe, I will come back as a National Geographic/Discovery Channel-type dude, making some crazy documentary about the migration of volleyball to Afghanistan and will finally get to the bottom of this mystery.



08SEP05

They’re shorthanded down at the palace, just Rookie and Cinco and Rookie’s leaving; so I’m transferring down there to help out. Will be working/mentoring the guys we’ve trained as they are protecting Karzai, OJT if you will. KPD is supposed to be out by the end of OCT and the whole operation will be run by Afghans then, allegedly.



10SEP05 (Notes in the Field)

Herat

Local Afghan sources report that someone is trying to sell a Stinger and two missiles/RPGs in Herat to move to Kabul


11SEP05

Reports of SA-7’s in AO.


12SEP05

ANA sources report an UID Afghan filming the primary route into Herat from the airport and AT mines allegedly in the area (note— there is one bridge on the only road from the airport into town). Also, the Army/ANA have been keeping an eye on a cache of AT mines that have been moved from the south of Herat to the north. Later, when they went to raid the cache, all the AT mines had disappeared and they wound up with nothing. Location of cache is now unknown.


PPS also reports that unknown ministers have refused to travel to Herat because of the threat.


DSS has been desperately trying to cancel the move but Eikenberry demands that Karzai go; so much for being sovereign. Eikenberry, notably, will not be making the trip with Karzai.


Postscript

It would later come to light that Eikenberry had been forbidden— a.k.a., a direct order— from directly speaking to Karzai, apparently not the political type. Whether or not that was why he refused to make the flight, I don’t know. However, given the number of people I saw, uniformed or otherwise, try to slip in for a photo-op with Karzai, Eikenberry was notably absent.


One of the stops in Herat was a recently built Afghan-owned soda factory on the outskirts of town— Super Cola. The soda came in orange and cola flavors. We were offered some samples on our advance of the site. The stuff was evil. It tasted like the liquid was at the point of sugar supersaturation and I was certain that I could feel it stripping layers of enamel off my teeth. We suggested that the owner, who was very gracious, change the name to Super Fun-Time Cola— everything is better with “Fun-Time” added. He said he’d take it under consideration and then offered us more bottles of soda as we left. We politely declined.


*****


STAFF Quotes

"The 'L' in CENTCOM stands for leadership..."


"At this Command, we have written in large, black letters: DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) on the back of our security badges." Maj (CENTCOM)


"Much work remains to be done before we can announce our total failure to make any progress."


"Creating smoking holes (with bombs) gives our lives meaning and enhances our manliness." LTC (EUCOM) at a CT conference


"When all else fails, simply revel in the absurdity of it all." LCDR (CENTCOM)


"Never attribute to malice that which can be ascribed to sheer stupidity." LTC (CENTCOM)


"Other than the fact that there's no beer, an early curfew and women that wear face coverings for a very good reason, Kabul is really a wonderful place to visit." LTC (CENTCOM)


"It was seen, ...visually." LTC (EUCOM) during a Reconnaissance briefing


"I have to know what I don't know..." Col (CENTCOM) during a shift changeover briefing



Early SEP

It’s just me and Cinco right now and it makes it damn near impossible to get anything proactive done as most the time is spent putting out fires. Today the countersnipers were leaving to drive to Campy XXX for several days of refresher training. They had two buses pulled up outside the Yellow House and had loaded all their rifles into one bus, sitting on the floor on their bipods, and the guys were going to ride in the other bus. Cinco walked by and just about went through the roof. We laughed about it later. What the hell were they thinking? We still don’t know. After three minutes on Jbad Road every rifle would have been slamming against the back of the bus and none of the scopes would have held their zero, or anything else for that matter. It took forty minutes to go through all their gear, find the drag bags and/or hard-sided cases they’d been issued, get the rifles out of the bus and into the bags/cases and everyone back on a bus with his rifle. And of course, by this time, something else is on fire somewhere else and the next thing you know it’s a week later and you feel like you haven’t slept in years. They’re learning, but some days, some days you wonder.



From: Recondo
To: Gwen
Subject: Habby Bday
Date: Thu Sep 2005 17:23:45 +0000


Heya,


Happy Birthday from the Land of the Mujahideen. Have spent the last six months or so training Afghans for the presidential secret service outside of Kabul and have just recently transferred down to the presidential palace as part of the imbed instructor team that works with the agents while they are on the job. It has been as rewarding as it has been frustrating at times.


What I have seen of Afghanistan is beautiful, if you are inclined to high deserts (over 6000 ft) with even taller mountains (12,000 and up). There isn’t much green in Kabul itself as most of the trees have been cut down for firewood. However, I was surprised at how many trees there were in the city of Herat out west.


The poverty here is beyond belief and it makes most of Iraq look like Beverly Hills, which is saying a lot. For the most part though, the people are genuine, if sometimes simple, and honorable beyond belief. The last class graduated about a week ago and I missed it; ran into the class yesterday while they were waiting to get their ID cards and they all gathered around to shake my hand and say thanks.


Was driving to the airport today to pick up some new guys and we were stuck in a little bit of traffic. Walking towards us was a man, Afghan Army, holding his young (4-5 y/o) son's hand who was cute as a button. The man was looking down at his feet as he was walking with a serious look on his face. He looked up and I waved- which I do a lot, it's free and I hope that some of these people remember that not all Americans are assholes, plus I get to see that there is nothing in at least one of their hands if they wave back. The man almost looked stunned for a minute, then smiled (almost a look of relief) and waved back.


It made my day that the guy smiled, but at the same time, I felt so horrible at how much I had and how little he did. There is so much injustice in the world, you always know it but when you see it, it takes on a completely different flavor.


Anyway, seems like there are a million and a half stories, most of them probably meaningless to anyone but me, I won't bore you with them but wanted to write and say happy birthday.


Hope you have had a good year and that today finds you farther along your road than you were last year. You're the last person I have to tell to enjoy the ride


Cheers,


Recondo


PS- Are you a Dr. yet?


“Whey you’re wounded an’ left on Afghanistan’s plains,
An’ the women come out to cut up your remains,
Just roll to your rifle an’ blow out your brains
An’ go to your Gawd like a soldier.”



From: "Gwen"

Subject: Habby Bday

Date: September 2005 5:56 PM


Dear Recondo,


Thanks for the Birthday message from Afghanistan... it’s a bit of a shock, really, but always good to hear from an old friend. I love to hear your stories. You're writing, yes? If you haven't compiled, you should be. You should be. You'd put a fuck of a lot of journalists to shame.


I guess we've been incommunicado for about half a decade now, so, yeah. I finished my degree. So I'm spending my time taking the dog to the beach (I won custody of our English Foxhound, Ty), traveling on weekends, visiting old friends, getting grounded, lapping up moral support. At the moment, I am in Seattle visiting a friend from graduate school. She's at work this morning and I am poshly drinking frothy lattes, eating warm cinnamon rolls and basking in 60 something, overcast, green trees, lakeshore, and wonderful.


Really, I'm always glad to hear from you. Despite the serious tone of your birthday greetings, you sound somehow, well.


Take good care of you-
Gwen



20SEP05 (Journal)

2320 local

Was walking out of the translator’s office after Friday has just translated a roster for me and saw one of the CAT guys lying on the ground, clutching his left elbow in agony, though he didn’t make a sound or even whimper.


I got to his side and his elbow was grotesquely out of shape and I thought that it was broken for sure. I think he fell off the back of one of the technicals that the CAT teams use. Except for his elbow, he looked alright and I called Cinco to let him know and then Skipper, our PJ medic. One of the CAT guys knelt behind the injured agent and held him— the care and concern in his eyes was evident and he held the guy, firmly yet carefully.


Other agents removed all the agent’s webgear and untucked his shirt, trying to keep him cool. Others retrieved a flat-board litter as well as a SAM splint, which I have no idea where they got that from, and a couple of ACE bandages. They carefully applied both to the injured arm while others agents showed up with blocks of wood to use as splints.


By that time, Skipper has showed up and before we even knew where we were taking the agent, his teammates had loaded him carefully into the van with several climbing in to go along with. Skipper took him to be looked at by the DynCorp KPD PA and ultimately wound up at ISAF/Camp Warehouse where he was good friends with the medical team there.


If Skipper hadn’t of been there, the guy would have likely been put in a taxi and sent off to the closest Afghan hospital— wrong fucking answer! Some four hours later, when Skipper got back, he saw one of Dyn’s PAs and updated him— the guy could have cared less and if it hadn’t been for Skipper they wouldn’t have even looked at him in the first place— have heard that from others as well. Pack of fucking assholes! It all comes around. I hope they don’t ever expect me to cover their six if things go south, because they will be very disappointed.


Afghan Courage


“Courage, physical courage, is central to the Afghan character…a special facet of Afghan bravery— the ability to suffer pain stoically, without fuss, and silently. It is deemed unmanly for an Afghan to cry out, or scream, if gravely injured. This is inculcated into his character as a child, as part of his upbringing. Cuff a five year old Afghan boy and tears will flow as with other children, but hit the same child at seven and he will hardly flinch. To be without courage is abhorrent; such a person is despised…I do not mean to imply that a Mujahid is never frightened. He knew fear, but not the fear of death. I found that most were afraid of mines, and were hesitant to attack posts closely protected by minefields. Their concern was living the life of a cripple, in a society where physical stamina and hardiness are indispensable. Mines tended to blow off feet, or legs, or hands, not kill. How could a man raise his family, tend to his sheep, build his house and climb the hills without his legs? The prospect of such a life was infinitely more frightening than death on the battlefield.”[1]



From: reCONdo

To: Gwen

Subject: Re: Habby Bday


Miss G,


Sorry it has taken me so long to get back to you. The internet here is crap beyond belief and I have been stupidly busy getting ready for a major move that was just cancelled at the last moment. Looks like Karzai gets to live another week.


Was surprised myself at the 'old friend', probably don't deserve it, but it made me smile nonetheless. I had heard from Ivan about the divorce and can say that I am either happy or sad for you. In either case, I truly hope that you are getting by, if not doing well, and am glad to hear that you got the dog- most are good people. What ever happened to Gigi?


I remember sitting in some coffee joint in Co Springs (with some stupid play on words for a name) with you one morning; have yet to find a similar place here, imagine that.


Serious tone? Yeah, I don't have hard time seeing that. The truth is, I enjoy what I do and feel very lucky in that regards. How many people actually enjoy their work? I am definitely a minority. But, after seeing some of the stuff I have, well, I still feel like me, but it changes you. I was back for my first break from Iraq in JAN04, sitting in a mall (I can't stand malls to begin with) with my sister waiting for my pics to develop watching all the people working minimum-wage jobs, living pay check to pay check only to buy what the TV told them was cool. It just killed me. The simple fact is, at least for me, damn near everything we have been raised to believe is important isn't, doesn't matter one bit. Think it was Robbie Robertson who sang “...when you find out what's important, with a breath of kindness, blow the rest away...”


In any case, I have been enjoying myself in Kabul for seven months now. The Afghans, while frustrating at times, are so honorable and generous for the most part that it is a joy; and the sense of simple and small accomplishment when you see the light go on is well worth the frustration. For the previous six months, I have been working at our camp just outside of Kabul as part of a 9-12 man team teaching these guys an eight-week executive protection course. Most of my time has been spent on the range teaching them how to
shoot. For about the last month, I have been down at the presidential palace working with the former students who are now doing the job for real- protecting Karzai. I came down as a temp stopgap measure and was so excited by the possibilities that I volunteered to stay on for another eight weeks even though I was supposed to go home in two. There are such good guys (Afghans) here and all they need is a little bit of direction to get running in the right direction. To be a small part of that, what an honor.


Anyway, back in my "normal" life, I moved last OCT from Denver back out to the sea. As much as I love the mountains, I was missing the ocean really bad. I got a little condo that backs up to a canal, where my boat will go, soon inshallah, and is about three minutes away from the local golf course- not too shabby. The only thing it is missing is a respectable hole in the wall bar within reasonable walking distance.


Of course there is more, but am trying to moderate.


A dios rogando y con el mazo dando,


Recondo



22SEP05 (Journal)

2320 local

Could barely sleep last night— tossing and turning, trying to drift off, knowing that I had to get up at 0600 to open up the armory for the CAT guys at 0700. As I finally drifted off, was left with the impression that I had been holding back the last several days with the XXX guys. Not happy about that. Realized that I was afraid of not being enough for them, of not being enough for me, and of letting Cinco, who stepped out on a limb for me here, down. I feel like the guy who can describe every inch of the beach but who couldn’t tell you what it felt like to get your feet wet or how the sand felt.


And is struck me as mildly ironic, that for all my grand dreams, I was closer to the servant who didn’t do a damn thing with his talents than anyone else. This isn’t chess, where one wrong move can screw you; this is madness, in the middle and everywhere else, where the only sin in not doing anything at all.



From: Gwen

Sent: Wednesday, October 26, 2005 6:23 PM

Subject: Re: Habby Bday


Hey,


I did, in fact, get your email, but am a horrible sloth and did not reply. Bygones?


Well, anyway, in answer...the coffee shop with the horrible play on words for a name was "Pike's Perk"... remember the ridiculously stupid construction guys that couldn't tell their PB&J from their asses? Was too funny.


GiGi the Wonder Beagle died suddenly of cancer the summer after I finished my degree. It was horrible, poor girl. So, now we... oops, that’s “I".... have Ty, and he IS good people. It’s good that I have him with me. He likes me better anyway than grumpy old Ivan.


Actually, things on my end of the divorce are relatively good now. I've been spending lots of time with friends, even had my first date in 10 years (very, very scary). Anyway I'll quit whining to you about my lame-ass ex husband. You probably get bitching from both ends, and that’s not cool.


As far as the writing goes, keep it up. I dunno about a novel, depends on the amount of time you have and your motivation level. But, you always have a lot of quip stories that are well told and interesting— blog them. Compile them. You don't have to have plots and characters if you don't want to, the stuff you have is already interesting and great.


Take good care of you,

Gwen



27SEP05— Unsent letter to Gwen:

Gwen,


Looking back, with all the wisdom that time imparts, I honestly don’t know how I could have made it out of the Navy without a lot of help from you and a little help from Duke dog…though you probably aren’t even aware of it.


So much more is clear now then it was then; and in many ways I am sure that it is too little and too late; but whether you know it or not, I owe you a debt that I will likely never to able to repay.


I wish that I could have been a wiser, better person; all I did was ask, demand, and take— greedy to breathe and in many ways, you were my lifejacket. You were the angel rescuing me from myself.


Gwen, I don’t know how to say it any better, but you were (and to some extent are) my…you cut me to the quick, the bone, to the core of me…and with a compassion that cut me even deeper to the quick than I know how to acknowledge. You were a goddess that I did, but could not worship nor reconcile.



“At no time during the war were the communists able to do other than hold the towns and bases, try to secure their lines of communication and carry out a series of search and destroy operations of varying sizes. If you cannot eradicate a guerrilla army you have lost.”[2]



Excerpts from The Other Side of the Mountain: Mujahideen Tactics in the Soviet-Afghan War by Ali Ahmad Jalali and Lester W. Grau


Vignette 2 from Chapter 14: Urban Combat

Four Urban Bomb Attacks

By Haji Mohammad Yakub


Introduction

Potential informants and government spies surround urban Guerrillas. They must frequently move around unarmed and the government can usually react to their actions much faster than they can in the countryside. For this reason, urban guerrilla groups in Afghanistan were usually small and fought back with short-duration actions. Many urban guerillas lived in the country side or suburbs and only entered the cities for combat.

Haji Mohammad Yakub, whose nickname was Mansur (Victor), was an urban guerrilla in Kabul. He belonged to the HIH faction.


Four Urban Bomb Attacks

Number 1 - Bombing is a necessary part of being an urban guerrilla. The object is to create fear and take out selected individuals. We got our explosives form Pakistan. Commander Azizuddin and Commander Meskinyar were our contacts in Paghman District who forwarded the explosives and detonators to us. They used elderly people as our go-betweens to carry messages and explosives to us.


In April 1980, we carried out an attack on the Radio Afghanistan building. This housed the central offices for Afghanistan radio and television broadcasting. Soviet advisers worked at the building and cleared the news before it was broadcast. The Soviets were our target. We received a bomb from our contacts and gave it to a woman who worked in the radio station. She smuggled it into the station and armed it. The bomb went off at 1000 hours on a workday. The explosion killed two Afghan Party activists and two Soviets. It also wounded a DRA soldier. For some time after the blast, Afghanistan Radio and TV stopped broadcasting. After this, the security procedures for the building were greatly increased and everyone was carefully searched. Our lady contact later managed to get herself transferred to the payroll of Kabul University.


Number 2 - The communist regime converted Kabul University into a center for communist indoctrination. We decided to target the primary party organization at the university in January 1981. Bombing seemed to be our best option. By this time, our lady contact at Radio Afghanistan was working in the payroll office at Kabul University. We gave her two bombs. She planted one in the university administration building and the timer for 1100. She set the second in the primary Party Organization building and set the timer for 1145. The theory was that, after the first bomb went off, people would mill about around the site and then the key party activists would gather in the primary Party Organization building to discuss the bombing. The second bomb would attack this concentration. Our plan worked as we thought it would. Following the blast in the administration building, the party secretaries of all the various communist organizations gathered in the primary Party Organization building. The blast killed a Soviet advisor and several party secretaries. The bombs killed a total of 10 and wounded an unknown number.


Number 3 - On 6 May 1983, we bombed the Ministry of Interior building in Kabul. We planted 27 kilograms of explosives in a room on the second floor of the building. This room was close to the office of the Minister. The bombs were hidden in four large flowerpots that had been there for some time. We had a contact who was a gardener for the Ministry of the Interior. He agreed to smuggle in the explosives, plant the bombs and set them for detonation. We trained him how to do the job. He mixed the explosives with limestone and smuggled them in plastic bags over a period of time. We planned to detonate the bombs during the daytime for maximum casualties. However, our HIH headquarters in Peshawar overruled us and told us to set he bombs off at night. HIH wanted to keep the Minister of the Interior Gulab Zoy alive since he was a leading member of the Khalq faction and his survival would insure that friction between the Khalq and Parchim communist factions continued.


The gardener set all the time pencils for 2300 hours when he went home at 1600 hours. There was no sense setting different times since the building would be virtually deserted. The time bombs went off on time and killed four duty officers and damaged the Minister’s office. If we had set off the bombs during the day we would have killed Gulab Zoy, Ghazi (his bodyguard), Sheruddin (his aide-de-camp) and perhaps a hundred others. The DRA closed roads around the building for 24 hours and conducted an investigation. However, they thought the blast was connected to some internal quarrel within the communist leadership and never suspected our gardener.


Number 4 - The Soviets lived in the eastern Micro region of Kabul. We decided to attack the Soviets right where they were living. There was a bus stop in the area where the Soviets would wait for their buses to work. We checked the timing of the buses. There was a daily 0745 morning bus that drew the most Soviets. We needed to establish a pattern so that we could leave a bomb without drawing attention. We got a push art and loaded it with the best fruit and vegetables we could get. The produce came from Parwan Province. We charged reasonable prices. The Soviets and local people got used to seeing us and buying from us. We kept this up for several days. At night, we would work on the pushcart. We put a false bottom in the cart so that we could put our bombs in the bottom of the cart and they would be undetected even if the cart were inspected. WE attacked on the 2nd of October 1983. We loaded five bombs into the bottom of the cart. We inserted time pencil fuses in the bombs and set them for 0743. Then we put in the false bottom and loaded the cart with produce. Six Mujahideen carried out the attack. None of us carried weapons. We brought the cart to the bus stop as usual. Thirteen Soviets crowded around it to see what was on sale. We slipped away from the cart and mixed with the local people. The bombs went off at 0743 just before the bus arrived. The blast killed 13, wounded 12 and damaged a nearby store. The DRA searched the crowd but made no arrests from our group.


Many people find such bombing attacks morally reprehensible, yet have no qualms when much larger bombs are dropped from aircraft. Neither type of bombing attack is surgical and both types kill innocent bystanders. The only real difference is in the size of the bomb and the means of delivery. The Mujahideen lacked an air force but retained a limited bombing option. The Soviets had an air force and conducted large- scale bombing attacks throughout the war.



Vignette 5 from Chapter 14: Urban Combat

Remote-control Attack on a Convoy

By Mohammad Humayun Shahin


Remote-control Attack on a Convoy in the Suburbs

There were some 40 guerillas in my force. We lived inside Kabul and in the suburbs. Most of the men were ethnic Pashtun, but there were seven Dari speakers from outside Kabul as well. The Pashtu speakers often mingled with the Kochi nomads who would pitch their tents and graze their herds on the outskirts of Kabul. The Dari speakers posed as dairy product buyers when Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (DRA) forces checked the area.


In October 1982, I was a combatant, not a commander. Our commander was Qarar. He led us on a convoy attack against the Kot-e Sangi - Darulaman road near Qala-e Alimardan. It was a combined action involving Islamic Party of Gulbuddin Hikmatyar (HIH) forces under Commander Didar, Commander Firoz and Commander Qarar, as well as fighters from the Mohseni faction. The combined force numbered 76 men. We expected a convoy from Darulaman to Kabul the next day. We all moved to the area at night and surrounded the area. Our mining teams emplaced seven remote-controlled (shartaki) mines. Then they camouflaged them. After positioning two observation posts and designating a detonation team, the Mujahideen withdrew. A Mujahideen known as Sher Bach-e Khala (a Hazara) and I spent the night in a clover field some 200 meters from the road.


The next morning, Commander Qarar came down the road on his bicycle. He told us that the Soviet convoy was moving from Darulaman. We moved into our detonation position. Commander Qarar then moved to the other observation post. He told the observer to take off his turban and wave it when the first two vehicles had passed the mined stretch of the road. He would do this since we could not see the mined stretch from the detonation position. A moment later, the convoy reached the site and the observer took off his turban, waved it and moved to a safe spot. We operated the detonator and four of the seven mines exploded. The explosion destroyed or damaged one BMP (A Soviet tracked infantry fighting vehicle that normally carries a three-man crew and a squad of eight soldiers) and three trucks. The four-man Mujahideen group safely escaped the area.


Author’s Commentary

It is always a good idea for a detonation party to be able to see the target area. Mujahideen communications were often primitive and, in this case, depended on one visual signal. The attack, like most urban attacks, was a quick, single strike followed by an immediate withdrawal. Such harassing attacks seldom had any major impact other than on morale. It was a good idea to have a small detonation group, but a 76-man force to secure the area while it was mined seems too large. Kabul was under a night-time curfew and a large group could be detected by patrols along main roads.





[1] Mohammad Yousaf, Afghanistan- The Bear Trap- The Defeat of a Superpower, p. 32-3

[2] Ibid, p. 216



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