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

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Chapter VI.7

Tastes Like Chicken

"We hate the Americans so much now, we don't want to see their faces," says Jan. "They're no different from the Russians."

“Me against my brothers; me and my brothers against our cousins; me, my brothers, and my cousins against everyone.” —Old Pashtun axiom

16MAR06 (Journal)

Qalat— flew down from Kabul to Kandahar. For once, didn’t fly in the back of a C-130 but in some twin puddle-jumper charted by BW— Fairchild something or other. First time I’ve really had a chance to see some of the country from the air. From Kandahar, caught a thirty-minute ride in an SH-60. Will write more later but am too tired.

17MAR06 (Journal)

No flight out today. The move’s been cancelled. We got word of it last night as we waited in an interminably long chow line at TF Rock’s FOB in Qalat.

Woke up this AM and finally out of the rack about 0900. Ambled over for some chow, which is brought over from the FOB twice a day, breakfast and dinner and was pretty much picked clean. I guess the guys here though are glad that they aren’t eating MRE’s three times a day but this wasn’t much to look forward to either— eating more for sustenance rather than for enjoyment.

After breakfast, went back to the room and started reading. After a while, changed into some shorts and moved the reading outside for some sun-ops. Some guy came up and asked if we were with Blackwater. Christ, just for once I’d like to get mistaken for someone good.

By the time I figured I’d had as much sun as my white belly could take it was time for a nooner, having decided to skip lunch and a 3,000 calorie MRE. About 1300 a couple of us went down to the little range they have here on the PRT and shot up all our spare ammo for an hour or so. We’re just killing time and none of us can stand to play anymore fucking Risk, ever.

After the range, back to the room and more reading till about 1530 and then it was time for the first of what would prove to be not many cocktails. Which all leaves me here at 1630 with a buzz and another day’s wage richer.

Anyway, as I was trying to say last night, we flew down on a chartered BW flight which was really the first time that I got a chance to see a good portion of the country. Seeing that we were headed SSW most of it was pretty desert-ish with green zones following the river valleys and mountain run-off feeders. On the west side of the plane ran huge mountain ranges that I though were the Hindu Kush but probably weren’t.

After getting a gander of the area around Kandahar airfield, was kinda surprised that there has been as much insurgent activity here as there has. Admittedly, I didn’t get a great look but the terrain doesn’t seem to be as conducive to insurgent activity as I imagine Kunar and Nuristan Provinces are.

Anyway, after we landed in Kandahar and the guys got a chance to eat at Subway— no chicken, only roast beef— we all got on two SH-60’s for a thirty-minute flight NE to Qalat— a little town in the middle of fucking nowhere in Zabul Province.

You can tell that winter is over, at least down here, as some of the nomads were already out with their tents pitched and goats and camels grazing on the budding green grass at the base of the mountains where the snowmelt runoff was the strongest. We flew no more than 200 feet off the deck the whole way and even then, the camels, which made me smile, looked impossibly small. I didn’t get any pics of them though I desperately wanted to, will try on the way back.

Touching down at the PRT, the surrounding area looks like it could be straight out of TX, AZ, or NM, except for all the Afghans, of course. The guys at the PRT call it the WV of Afghanistan.

Maj. Austin gave Red and me a walking tour of the place— courteous as hell to us, as has been everyone here. It quickly became apparent that it was a not-often chance for him to show off what they did here.

I felt a little bad, it was obvious that they (the PRT) looked at us with some awe; but hell, I ain’t nobody. In any case, I figured it was the least I could do to follow this courteous man around in appreciation of what they had accomplished. In the end, it was I who was in awe. On their own these guys, mostly reservists, had set up carpentry, plumbing, and electrical apprenticeship programs— students got a complete set of tools when they graduated— a military and civilian EMT course, a computer lab with MS Certification level courses— some of the former students were now instructors— and a rug-weaving program. They had also built a grade school next door.

I feel pride for these guys just writing about it. This is probably the first thing that I have seen since I’ve been in Afghanistan that gave me any hope at all. These guys, again, largely on their own initiative, set this stuff up and they will have left an indelible mark upon Qalat when they leave.


Got back from the FOB, dark as hell. The stars were so bright. Watched a full moon rise over the bluffs to the east; reminded me of Canyonlands.

count the days

slowly passing by

step on a plane

and fly away

I’ll see you then

as the dawn birds sing

on a cold and misty morning

on the Albert St. Bridge

18MAR06— Unsent letter to Gwen:


Sometimes the distance “I think I perceive” between us seems uncrossable; some of which probably stems from the fact that I am in Qalat, Afghanistan and you are not, but in SD.

I want so badly to be invited into your space: to hear you stories and myths, your fears, desires, the things you hold dear, those that you don’t— to see the world through your bright eyes.

I find you fascinating, an improbable commingling of many different things.

Conversely, to take your hand and show you me…have been trying a little at a time. But some things I am still afraid of, or afraid of you being afraid of and lately, given what I do, there is such an immediacy to me because of my job and I am so constrained by what I can say across the distance due to security concerns that most days I feel lucky if I can convey some of the essence of what my days are…without sounding too tired or concerned.

I’m sure that I have written this all badly— thinking about it while walking around the imprisoning confines of the PRT base, which could be more aptly described as an old Spanish Mission in Indian country, in the cold dust and rain.

And the temptation is strong to use you as a crutch, a blanket. Those may be the wrong words and “symbol” may be better, though no less bad— nice grammar huh? I think it was Voltaire (and don’t feel like Googling it to make sure and will rely on some of the college edumacation I paid for long ago instead) who said that if god didn’t exist, we would have to invent him. Similarly, it is too easy…and I don’t want to make a “symbol” out of you, because if you didn’t exist, I would have to invent someone like you. And by that, I mean that this job, the environment, the immediacy of everything, the constant danger, the stress, the fact that you are your job and have no other life to define yourself here, the relative isolation, et al can be so demanding that it is impossible to operate here in a vacuum. And so, the biggest relief, comfort, whatever, at the end of the day is the knowledge that someone, somewhere is thinking about you and cares. And if there isn’t, you have to believe that there is.

It is a lot to dump on anyone, and I have some problems with it because I, unlike the poor bastards in the military, knew what I was getting into and chose to come here, it’s what I do, which in my book, leaves me with less of an excuse for complaining. And yet, that doesn’t make the danger, stress, or heartache any less. And what I really don’t, DON’T want to do is make a symbol out of you, because it draws boundaries, limits, god knows what else, and I wouldn’t want you to be a “band-aid” but to be Gwen and anything and everything that that is.

It is easy to be petty and selfish when living in such austere and dangerous conditions.

And all of this isn’t even “whatever it is that we now are” but Afghanistan itself. We (the advance team) have been trapped here for two days now and the booze ran out last night, which was about when the place became unamusing. Everyone is on edge—jonesing to get out and not looking forward to another night…and god knows how many more days here— where we are REALLY cut off from the world and without a routine to fall back on and pass the long hours.

It is impossible at times, to separate yourself, your thoughts, or Afghanistan— the constant danger, stress, conditions, and the psyche of the country easily smudge the distinctions between the thinker, the thought, and the background; and so the edginess and feeling of “needing to move” intermingle with the blowing dust, rain, the landscape, and my thoughts of you.

I don’t mean to sound so down or introspective sometimes, but would probably sound that way today talking about anything and you just happen to be on my mind a lot these days.

I guess I am saying that you shouldn’t read too much into the tone but the thought within it— everything I’ve written to or about you here will be tinged with the brush of the “factors” that have been Afghanistan for me…and that has been the first time that I have ever experienced this and have only cognitively figured out this much right now while desperately trying to find the right words to you…something, anything, everything.

Things I Don’t Remember Being Covered in the High-Speed Training I Paid For

Ramadan comes to mind; maybe not readily but it always eventually makes its way up there. In Iraq, it was the bombings which became synonymous with the holiday. In Afghanistan, it was trying to keep PPS agents security-orientated when they were fasting all day long, a tough proposition under the easiest circumstances.

Everyone crankier than usual due to hunger, and gate guards abandoning their posts without being relieved to pray are what I remember most; that, and the onset of fall. One agent admitted that if a guard were to start praying he would not get up until his prayer was completed, even if people by the dozens were rushing past his post; showing IDs or no. It reminded me, in a roundabout way, of the inshallah attitude on the range I had seen earlier—if God wills it—not exactly the best cornerstone of security planning.

We tried reasoning, “Allah will understand if you pray later, like when you’re not on post, as you are doing your duty as a guard and a man.” Nope. We tried coercion, pleading, and ultimately you just had to accept it and work around it as best you could. It was their country after all. If the president died because someone was praying instead of standing their post then Allah must have indeed willed it. It’s not the kind of thing you advertised though and it made for a long month which ended with a collective sigh of relief.

“Meanwhile, a drink of water touched off an argument and an exchange of gunfire between U.S. troops and an Afghan police officer in Kabul province. A district chief said a U.S. service member took the drink in front of Afghan police, who were not eating or drinking during the day in observance of Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month. The police officer ended up shooting and seriously wounding the American. Other U.S. troops shot back, seriously wounding the Afghan.”

A Life Less Fantastic

Find myself tired these days

sluggish, wandering around in a reverie—

like walking underwater.

I wonder at the wisdom of carrying a gun anymore

as when I fall, there will be nothing to shoot back at

and it only weighs me down

and I am already too heavy.

The history of this place

has permeated me,

seeped through my pores

and now I dream Afghan dreams.

Sitting up on Vicky Tower

a cold, cutting wind

pushing threatening, gray, too-early-for-Spring clouds

across a dirty blue sky

the call to prayer echoes hollowly,

mechanically, rusty sounding

off the hills

drowning out the sounds of downtown Kabul traffic

for a few moments

sending a chill down my spine.

A week ago in Kunduz

I stood in a thick grove of slender Poplars

surrounded by brown mud walls—

it was eerily silent

but for the rustle of a thousand unheard whispers,

though you could feel the tension,

sublime yet immediate…

the bombs went off

the day after we left.

And before that

driving back from Talaqon—

some long forgotten Dream Academy song in the back of my head—

the dirty, tired, smudged faces lined up along the road

upturned expectantly

to catch a glimpse of a president

that wasn’t coming

and the glimmer of hope

he was supposed to bring—

like a glowing, hot coal on a dark and rainy night—

and only seeing me

a white ghost in a silver Land Cruiser…

the dream turning, twisting,

tearing into something far worse

violent, fearful, hungry

in the starkest hues

surrounded by the jagged Hindu Kush

and a million nameless ghars

and then dying.

Driving past another burned out Russian T-62 tank

the littered detritus of a life less fantastic

have lost count of how many I have seen today—

this must be how they felt;

last thoughts penned in Cyrillic on the back of some letter

or envelope

from a home they would never see again

their white, sunken ghosts doomed

to stalk this desolate,

strange, and beautiful land…

unable to cross the mountains between here and sanctuary

weighed down by the heaviness

of the Afghan dreams that had seeped through their pores

and displaced their dreams.

19MAR06 (Journal)

We managed to exfil in a Humvee convoy headed to Kandahar; driving around here is always more “exciting” than flying. Today however, was uneventful. Managed to catch a desperation flight in the back of a C-130 and got into Kabul a little after dark. Glad to be home; you never know where you may end up when you climb into the back of these planes as plans have a tendency to change. Some dinner at the Thai restaurant and then back to the embassy for a hot shower, booze, internet and no Risk.

From: ReCõndo
Sent: Monday, March 20, 2006 1:07 PM
To: Þonjö@realworld.com
Subject: RE: (no subject)


Thanks for the kick in the ass. I know better than to believe that I will be everyone’s friend, and quite honestly, why the hell would I want to be?

Aside from all the other fuck-ups (from day one) I would actually partially disagree in that they handed over the whole program, making the embeds completely irrelevant. Prior to the handover, PPS worked because they wanted something…to be seen as equals, to stick it to Dyn whatever. Rather than tying capability to a phased handover DoS just gave them everything, whether they were capable or not. And of course, PPS saw that as a glowing commendation of their skills and, for the most part, stopped giving a fuck. It has been downhill and an uphill battle since. Of course, the picture is bigger and there were, and are, political considerations. Still, you gotta learn to walk before you run.

As always,


“Exile, n. One who serves his country by residing abroad, yet is not an ambassador. An English sea-captain being asked if he had read "The Exile of Erin," replied: "No sir, but I should like to anchor on it." Years afterwards, when he had been hanged as a pirate after a career of unparalleled atrocities, the following memorandum was found in the ship's log that he had kept at the time of the reply: Aug 3d, 1842. Made a joke on the ex-Isle of Erin. Coldly received. War with the whole world!”


One non-descript day, by methods that no one now understands, Logger ascertained that a package has been delivered to him via the Afghan postal service (if such a thing even existed or exists). Why this letter or package did not come via the military (APO) postal system is and was anyone’s guess. But still…

And maybe I should digress here for a moment; when one is separated by long and strange miles from the “real” world, whether on the ocean or in the midst of a strange and foreign land, mail is king and serves as Ariadne’s string to Theseus in the Minotaur’s labyrinth. I’ve seen grown men cry as pallets carrying mail between two ships twisted and then fell into the sea during an UNREP. At the time I didn’t understand. Another three months underway and I would.

So Logger grabs an Afghan ‘terp and two expats for the lead vehicle and Full-Metal Sheehan, Adam, and myself, as the tail gunner, make up the tail vehicle. I should probably point out the futility of being a “trunk monkey” in an armored vehicle. Due to the armor, you will not be initiating, preferable, or returning fire; however, you will be able to witness it all. In any case, we wind ourselves through late, downtown Kabul traffic to the largest building in town where the post office is located, allegedly.

It’s not hard to find the only tall building in Kabul and once there we park on the south side of the street. To the rear of us and across the street are a number of small wagon/cart vendors selling pistachios and god-only-knows what. Logger disappears into the building with the ‘terp and Full Metal, Adam, and I all roll out of our vehicle to throw up a small perimeter. As we’re standing there for what seems like hours, about fifteen minutes, the carts around us start to pack up and leave. Soon we are the only people/cars for a number of blocks. I’m watching this with a great deal of dis-ease. Although it doesn’t mean that we’re going to be attacked it’s not a good sign, not the kind of thing that leaves you with a warm fuzzy. I verbalize this to Full-Metal and Adam, repeatedly.

Finally, Logger and the ‘terp return and we mount up. Later inquiry would prove that the package was from Logger’s wife (god only knows how the package made its way into downtown Kabul) and was a copy of The Kite Runner. The thought was nice, but in hindsight, hardly worth our effort or risk. In any case, we were stupid happy to mount up and be moving again, rather than sitting there like the ducks we were.

At the time, there was only one US/military/AFARTS radio station in Kabul that once in a while played some obscure hippie screed from the 70’s; other than that, everything was fifties and pre-psychedelic 60’s, nothing from the 00’s, the 90’s, or even the 80’s. It was my suspicion that this was a direct order for from Gen. Eikenbery himself because no one under sixty would play that crap for an army for an army whose average age is 18-20; as if they’d know who the hell Neil Sedaka was.

Be that as it may, as we were pulling away Three Dog Night’s Shambala comes on the radio. I probably haven’t heard that tune since, god, I don’t know, 1979, if that. And it didn’t matter, and I found myself howling along, “Awwooooooooooo yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah…” as we slewed our way through the late evening Kabul traffic while I watched for tangos that I couldn’t even shoot at. I was in a better place thought, on the road to Shambala.

30MAR06 (Journal)

I was sitting up on Vicky Tower when Bush visited and my whole job was to make Bush’s SS detail feel special; you know, things would be okay if a white guy was up there with the Afghan PPS snipers—hey, we trust them or we don’t. Anyway, so there I am, sitting up on this tower with two Afghan snipers (who only have one pair of bino's between them...now you begin to understand some of our problems) and I look back and one of the snipers “on his scope", pointed almost directly down towards three squads of SEALs who are looking up and gesturing amongst themselves re my sniper. I yell at the kid to get the hell off of his scope before the SEALs start brassing us up. The agent tells me coolly, “my supervisor wanted to know who those guys were.” I reply that all he had to do was yell out, 'Hey, who the hell are you?’. The Afghans don't get it, but are amused by my agitation. Fucking savages.

They then ask me how much I make a month- I can hardly tell them what I make and take a long look around, finally telling them, with a large sigh, that I don't make damn near enough, especially on days like this. Funny, they all of a sudden understand English and are laughing their asses off. What are we going to do?

The Flower and the Wasteland— a Myth

One night

a young Boy fell asleep

next to the fire in his village.

When he woke up

the next morning?

the village was gone

and nothing remained in its place.

The Land around him was flat and barren,


as if some great unknown force

had wiped away everything

the Land might have once held.

In all directions, rising above the shimmering horizon—

no matter which way he looked—

were tall and foreboding Mountains

that rose starkly, jagged teeth jutting up into the colorless sky

out of a bleached and long-forgotten jawbone.

No matter how far

or which way he walked

the Mountains

neither approached

nor receded

and if he was thirsty or hungry,

he wasn’t aware of it—

as a young Brave.

And after a time

a small splash of color

broke up the unrelenting monotony

of an always further horizon—

a mixture of red and green.

As he approached

the colors began to assume a form

that eventually became

a small Flower of soft red petals

and incredible beauty

perched resolutely on a slender stem

surrounded by luxuriant green leaves

that tapered delicately at the ends.

The young Brave was mesmerized

by the image of beauty before him

and sat down before the Flower in contemplation,

instinctively knowing that they were somehow connected.

And after a time

he noticed that the Flower

was beginning to wilt—

the leaves browning around

the edges

and brittle petals curling inward.

He felt a terrible sadness

for this Flower was the only thing

besides himself

in this Land of nothing

and he did not know how to save it.

Hot tears of frustration

rolled down his cheeks

splashing one-by-one

into the brown dust

around the base of the Flower.

And after a time

he noticed that the color had

again returned to the luxuriant green leaves

and the soft red petals had reopened


turning an even deeper, richer red.

He realized that his tears

were watering the Flower

his life seeping into its roots

and he smiled to himself

though he continued to cry

in earnest now.

And after a time

he noticed

that again

the Flower

was beginning to wilt—

the leaves browning around

the edges

and the petals curling inward.

A fine haze of white crystals

had formed

around the base of the Flower

and the inescapable certainty

that the salt in his tears

was as surely killing the Flower

as his tears were watering it

dropped him to his knees;

although it mattered little

as he found that he could

no longer cry.

The sorrow he felt now

crushed his soul

suffocating him

threatening to drown him

in the deepest, darkest

of Leviathan’s Abyss.

He was trapped in this prison

with no way out

and he could feel his life

slowly seeping out of himself

as the Flower slowly…inexorably

continued to wilt.

He found himself

sitting on the steps of a church

within a walled Spanish mission

in Qalat, Afghanistan.

The walls were chipped,

the paint faded and peeling,

splintered beams protruded

from sagging bunkers

and gun emplacements

as the up-guns on HMMWV’s

haphazardly parked about the compound

pointed blankly

at the weathered gray sky.

He was older

the weight of the squat, black pistol

in the holster on his thigh

was reassuring

and somehow, he knew that he knew

how to use it if necessary.

The land was still flat and mostly brown

mountains still remained

on the horizon

but they didn’t seem nearly so imposing

or far off;

flat mesas interrupted the bases of the mountains

and to the east, a nameless river

cut a brown trench through the flat —

the natives sometimes using in the night

to fire mortars at the Mission.

He shivered a little

in the cutting north wind

scrunching up his shoulders

further into his fleece jacket;

around him

the Missionaries

went about their business—


cammie uniforms weary and sun-faded

but still worn smartly with pride—

surrounded by alien and inscrutable

Natives of the land

learning the fundamentals

of carpentry, plumbing, rug-weaving

and network administration.

The call to prayer

floated easily, eerily, over the wind

rising and falling— ululating

his thoughts followed the faithful

temporarily recalled to their


So much made sense

more seemed not to

and much remained unanswered

a mystery— and yet

that was okay.

He thought about a girl

he had once forgotten—

who lived by the Sea;

so beautiful

in body and spirit

it made his heart ache

and race

to remember her smile.


walked out and sat down next to him

lighting a cigarette,

“So, how’d you get here?”

He shrugged,

“I don’t know, by bus?”

From: Recondo

To: Gwen

Sent: 01APR06


Hopefully you aren't working and don't get this till MON. Last night (FRI) someone poured waaaay to many hurricanes down my throat...against me will...and when I find them, will kick their ass...somehow survived and woke up feeling reasonably well, only because I eventually realized that I had yet to sober up. Good times. Spent the morning just walking around in a happy haze talking to agents (most of whom don't speak my language) and shaking hands. The whole thing had a sad/happy flavor to it and the day felt exquisitely like a lazy summer afternoon. Before I went home last November, I could taste it, two weeks out, but this time the reality just hasn't sunk in.

Everywhere I turn; it occurs to me that this may be the last time that I see that view. And it is really sinking in just how much this place has marked me and how much I will miss it, though there is much that I won't miss at all. In some ways, I think the feeling is made worse by not knowing if I will come back as well as knowing that the ‘mission’ has not been completed yet. There’s still more that I could do and a part of me feels bad for leaving without having concluded my work here. I have watched two-thirds of the agents progress from "basic training" till they were working on the job and I have totally underestimated the effect that they have had on me. A million small moments...it feels like I have crammed five years with these guys into one and I only now realize how much I will miss them and their fucked up country.

Ah well, I have said that I would trade 100 Iraqis for 10 Afghans... and would happily trade the whole lot for dinner with you.

“Helplessness induces hopelessness, and history attests that loss of hope and not loss of lives is what decides the issue of war.”

— Captain Sir Basil Liddell Hart, The Real War 1914-1918

Taking Alingar District Capital[1]

In July of 1980, the subdistrict capital of Nengrach was collocated with the Alingar District Capital in the town of Alingar. This is because the mujahideen had driven the government out of the mountain redoubt of Nengrach. The district government of Nuristan was also there. The DRA never controlled more than 15% of the countryside. We decided to eliminate all these governments by seizing Alingar town.

The DRA 81st Regiment had a battalion in Alingar and there were some DRA militia forces as well. We had two contacts in the DRA garrison. One was Captain Yar Mohammad who had a brother in our mujahideen group. Captain Mohammad was from nearby Joh-e Safi and routinely provided us information about government plans. We talked to the Captain about capturing Alingar and he agreed to help us. We introduced the Captain to our other contact, Piroz. Piroz was a cook in the DRA garrison. We gave drugs to Piroz. The Captain and Piroz agreed that Piroz would drug the food before our attack and that the captain would signal us when he was done and we could launch our attack. The mujahideen sympathizers in the DRA camp would kill the communist officers. The signal to attack was the firing of a magazine full of tracer ammunition.

There were about 300 total mujahideen formed in four groups and about 30 subgroups. We called the group commanders together and told them to concentrate their men at night in Tokhi Khwar about one kilometer from the district headquarters. We told them that we had inside contacts but provided no details. We also assigned a group of Mullahs with megaphones to begin broadcasting after the attack. They were to persuade the besieged DRA to surrender. H-hour was midnight.

There were 150 mujahideen in Nawaz Khan’s group. They were armed with three DShK heavy machineguns, two 82mm recoilless rifles, some mortars and Kalashnikov rifles. Dr. Qudus’ group had one Soviet PPSH submachine gun, some bolt-action rifles, and some other weapons. Several mujahideen were unarmed. The other mujahideen groups were similarly equipped. The signal to attack was given 10 minutes early. Although the drugged food did not have its desired effect, Piroz and 10 other mujahideen sympathizers had killed their communist officers. The DRA battalion surrendered to us as we stormed inside the battalion compound.

The mujahideen had deployed forces to the north, south and west of the district center. One group attacked the DRA security posts on Baghal Mountain to the northwest. One group attacked along the main road which ran east of the river. One group attacked to seize and cross the bridge. One group attacked the DRA posts on Amir Shahid hill to the southeast. The DRA military did not want to fight us, however, the local militia units were reluctant to surrender and fought on. The militia were still protecting the government enclaves of Alingar, Nuristan, and Nengrach. The military then cooperated with us and turned their guns on the militia. A fierce battle ensued with the mujahideen and the military fighting the militia.

We killed 285 DRA officials, police, soldiers, militia, and civilians. We captured 80 heavy weapons, two armored vehicles, and 1,200 small arms. The heavy weapons included one 76mm mountain gun, one 76mm field gun, some ZGU-1 heavy machine guns, a 107mm mortar, several DShK heavy machineguns, and some 82mm mortars. In Nawaz Khan’s group, they lost three KIA and seven WIA. In Sidizullah’s group, they lost two KIA.

“About 99% of the battles and skirmishes that we fought in Afghanistan were won by our side. The problem is that the next morning there is the same situation as if there had been no battle. The terrorists are again in the village where they were – or we thought they were – destroyed a day or so before.”

“There is barely an important piece of land in Afghanistan that has not been occupied by one of our soldiers at some time or another,” the commander said. “Nevertheless, much of the territory stays in the hands of the terrorists. We control the provincial centres, but we cannot maintain political control over the territory that we seize.”

—Marshal Sergei Akhromeyev, commander of Soviet armed forces, to the USSR’s politburo in the Kremlin on November 13, 1986.

Excerpt from The Bear Went Over the Mountain: Soviet Combat Tactics in Afghanistan: The Frunze Military Academy Lessons Learned in Afghanistan

Edited By Lester W. Grau - FMSO and NDU

The Frunze Conclusion

Soviet Tactical Operations in Afghanistan


The Frunze Military Academy is a ground forces command and staff college located in Moscow on Proyezd Devich’yevo Polya near the Novodevichiy Monastery. It trains select captains and majors over a three-year course of instruction. It has chairs of operational-tactical disciplines, history of war and military art, foreign languages and scientific research section. It primarily trains ground forces officers in combined arms warfare, but has representatives from all branches and services. World-famous military historians are included in its faculty. In this conclusion, the Frunze Academy refers to the Basmachi movement. The Basmachi were resistance fighters in Central Asia who resisted the imposition of Red rule from 1918 to 1933. The Bolsheviks attempt to extend their revolutionary order into Muslim Asia was resisted by hit-and-run raids and ambushes. A good English-language account of the Basmachi resistance is in Dr. Robert F. Bauman’s Russian-Soviet Unconventional Warfare in the Caucasus, Central Asia, and Afghanistan, Leavenworth Paper Number 20, Combat Studies Institute, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, 1993.

The Frunze Conclusion

Combat experience in the Republic of Afghanistan confirms the correctness of the basic tenets of our directive documents. However, in addition, it confirms the need to reassess some of them which touch on forces and means in special circumstances.

Several combat principles lay at the heart of the Mujahideen’s tactics. First, they avoided direct contact with the superior might of regular forces - it would have wiped them out. Second, the Mujahideen practically never conducted positional warfare and, when threatened with encirclement, would abandon their positions. Third, in all forms of combat, the Mujahideen always strove to achieve surprise. Fourth, the Mujahideen used examples from the Basmachi movement and employed terror and ideological conditioning on a peaceful populace as well as on local government representatives.

The Mujahideen knew the terrain intimately, were natural scouts, and were capable of rapidly transmitting the necessary information about secret Soviet unit and sub-unit movements over great distances using rudimentary communications gear and signaling devices. Among the guerrilla forces’ tactical strong suits were all types of night actions, the ability to rapidly and clandestinely move in the mountains, and fielding of a very broad agent reconnaissance network.

The constant changes in the military-political situation in Afghanistan, the outfitting of the guerrilla forces with new weaponry, and the Mujahideen use of various techniques and procedures of military action worked to keep pressure on the tactics of Soviet forces. This demanded a constant, creative search for fundamentally new approaches for successful completion of the military mission. The TO&E (Table of Organization and Equipment) structure of sub-units and units were perfected. This was done in accordance with the techniques and procedures of combat, which would be most effective in the given TVD. This placed increased demands on the production of improved uniforms, load-bearing equipment and gear for the soldiers.

Experience shows that the basic conditions for achieving success in battle are making a well-informed decision in accordance with the specific combat situation. This includes thorough and complete preparation for mission accomplishment; securing tactical surprise and insuring tight coordination between sub-units and units of various branches and aviation performing common missions; hard but flexible and uninterupted control of sub- units; and daring, brave and enterprising actions by the commander and his troops as well as comprehensive support for the combat actions.

Military cunning was given great importance. As a rule, when sub-units went into battle, they were thoroughly prepared. Several hours or several days were set aside for this. Special attention needs to be paid to practical training of the soldier, sergeant, and officer. Training was frequently conducted on terrain similar to that on which they would fight. This allowed sub-units to work out several scenarios for the conduct of battle.

It must be remembered, however, that the experience of Soviet forces in the Republic of Afghanistan is specific to that locality. The practical application of this experience will require creativity and will have to take into account the specific natures and types of enemy actions.

A day after President Obama announced a massive increase in the U.S. troop presence — an additional 17,000 pairs of boots on the ground, coming soon — the former minister told CBS News he couldn't understand, "why the U.S. relies on figures and the number of troops in a country such as Afghanistan, where the number of foreign invaders has never made any difference, and the winners have always been the freedom fighters."

"The more troops that the U.S. and NATO send, the more they will get deeper stuck in Afghanistan," said the former minister, who spoke to CBS on condition that he not be identified.

America and NATO are "certainly losing their minds," by increasing their troop presence, "while we almost blocked the supply routes coming via Pakistan, and have already sent about 1,000 Taliban to cut new supply routes from the north into Kabul, via central Asia and Russia," he said.

Why We Fight?

Resignation Letter from US Foreign Service Officer Matthew P. Hoh

US Foreign Service Officer Matthew P. Hoh,
Senior Civilian Representative, Afghanistan

September 10, 2009

Ambassador Nancy J. Powell
Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20520

Dear Ambassador Powell,

It is with great regret and disappointment I submit my resignation from my appointment as a Political Officer in the Foreign Service and my post as the Senior Civilian Representative for the US Government in Zabul Province. I have served six of the previous ten years in service to our country overseas, to include deployment as a US Marine office and Department of Defense civilian in the Euphrates and Tigris River Valleys of Iraq in 2004-2005 and 2006-2007. I did not enter into this position lightly or with any undue expectations nor did I believe my assignment would be without sacrifice, hardship or difficulty. However, in the course of my five months of service in Afghanistan, in both Regional Commands East and South, I have lost understanding of and confidence in the strategic purposes of the United States’ presence in Afghanistan. I have doubts and reservations about our current strategy and planned future strategy, but my resignation is based not upon how we are pursuing this war, but why and to what end. To put simply: I fail to see the value or the worth in continued US casualties or expenditures of resources in support of the Afghan government in what is, truly, a 35-year old civil war.

This fall will mark the eighth year of US combat, governance and development operations within Afghanistan. Next fall, the United States’ occupation will equal in length the Soviet Union’s own physical involvement in Afghanistan. Like the Soviets, we continue to secure and bolster a failing state, while encouraging an ideology and system of government unknown and unwanted by its people.

If the history of Afghanistan is one great stage play, the United States is no more than a supporting actor, among several previously, in a tragedy that not only pits tribes, valleys, clans, villages and families against one another, but, from at least the end of King Zahir Shah’s reign, has violently and savagely pitted the urban, secular, educated and modern of Afghanistan against the rural, religious, illiterate and traditional. It is this latter group that composes and supports the Pashtun insurgency. The Pashtun insurgency, which is composed of multiple, seemingly infinite, local groups, is fed by what is perceived by the Pashtun people as a continued and sustained assault, going back centuries, on Pashtun land, culture, traditions and religion by internal and external enemies. The US and NATO presence and operations in Pashtun valleys and villages, as well as Afghan army and police units that are led and composed of non- Pashtun soldiers and police, provide an occupation force against which the insurgency is justified. In both RC East and South, I have observed that the bulk of the insurgency fights not for the white banner of the Taliban, but rather against the presence of foreign soldiers and taxes imposed by an unrepresentative government in Kabul.

The United States military presence in Afghanistan greatly contributes to the legitimacy and strategic message of the Pashtun insurgency. In a like manner our backing of the Afghan government in its current form continues to distance the government from the people. The Afghan government’s failings, particularly when weighed against the sacrifice of American lives and dollars, appear legion and metastatic:

§ Glaring corruption and unabashed graft;

§ A President whose confidants and chief advisors comprise drug lords and war crimes villains, who mock our own rule of law and counternarcotics efforts;

§ A system of provincial and district leaders constituted of local power brokers, opportunists and strongmen allied to the United States solely for, and limited by, the value of our USAID and CERP contracts and for whose own political and economic interests stand nothing to gain from any positive or genuine attempts at reconciliation; and

§ The recent election process dominated by fraud and discredited by low voter turnout, which has created an enormous victory for our enemy who now claims a popular boycott and will call into question worldwide our government’s military, economic and diplomatic support for an invalid and illegitimate Afghan government.

Our support for this kind of government, coupled with a misunderstanding of the insurgency’s true nature, reminds me horribly of our involvement with South Vietnam; an unpopular and corrupt government we backed at the expense of our Nation’s own internal peace, against an insurgency whose nationalism we arrogantly and ignorantly mistook as a rival to our own Cold War ideology.

I find specious the reasons we ask for bloodshed and sacrifice from our young men and women in Afghanistan. If honest, our stated strategy of securing Afghanistan to prevent al-Qaeda resurgence or regrouping would require us to additionally invade and occupy western Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, etc. Our presence in Afghanistan has only increased destabilization and insurgency in Pakistan where we rightly fear a toppled or weakened Pakistani government may lose control of its nuclear weapons. However, again, to follow the logic of our stated goals we should garrison Pakistan, not Afghanistan. More so, the September 11th attacks, as well as the Madrid and London bombings, were primarily planned and organized in Western Europe; a point that highlights the threat is not one tied to traditional geographic or political boundaries. Finally, if our concern is for a failed state crippled by corruption and poverty and under assault from criminal and drug lords, then if we bear our military and financial contributions to Afghanistan, we must reevaluate and increase our commitment to and involvement in Mexico.

Eight years into war, no nation has ever known a more dedicated, well trained, experienced and disciplined military as the US Armed Forces. I do not believe any military force has ever been tasked with such a complex, opaque and Sisyphean mission as the US military has received in Afghanistan. The tactical proficiency and performance of our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines is unmatched and unquestioned. However, this is not the European or Pacific theaters of World War II, but rather is a war for which our leaders, uniformed, civilian and elected, have inadequately prepared and resourced our men and women. Our forces, devoted and faithful, have been committed to conflict in an indefinite and unplanned manner that has become a cavalier, politically expedient and Pollyannaish misadventure. Similarly, the United States has a dedicated and talented cadre of civilians, both US government employees and contractors, who believe in and sacrifice for their mission, but they have been ineffectually trained and led with guidance and intent shaped more by the political climate in Washington, DC than in Afghan cities, villages, mountains and valleys.

"We are spending ourselves into oblivion" a very talented and intelligent commander, one of America’s best, briefs every visitor, staff delegation and senior officer. We are mortgaging our Nation’s economy on a war, which, even with increased commitment, will remain a draw for years to come. Success and victory, whatever they may be, will be realized not in years, after billions more spent, but in decades and generations. The United States does not enjoy a national treasury for such success and victory.

I realize the emotion and tone of my letter and ask that you excuse any ill temper. I trust you understand the nature of this war and the sacrifices made by so many thousands of families who have been separated from loved ones deployed in defense of our Nation and whose homes bear the fractures, upheavals and scars of multiple and compounded deployments. Thousands of our men and women have returned home with physical and mental wounds, some that will never heal or will only worsen with time. The dead return only in bodily form to be received by families who must be reassured their dead have sacrificed for a purpose worthy of futures lost, loved vanished, and promised dreams unkept. I have lost confidence such assurances can anymore be made. As such, I submit my resignation.


Matthew P. Hoh
Senior Civilian Representative
Zabul Province
, Afghanistan

Cc: Mr. Frank Ruggiero
Ms. Dawn Liberi
Ambassador Anthony Wayne
Ambassador Karl Eikenberry

12APR06 (Journal)

0945 local

It’s been blowing since I got back— no good for fishing. And tomorrow I make the completely unbelievable flight out to SD to see Gwen. Never in a million years could I, did I imagine this happening. God knows I dreamed about it; but now is no longer then and I haven’t the slightest idea what to feel…except a pretty damned good certainty that my heart will be racing like mad and both of my feet will likely be in my mouth.

I’ve wanted to babble at her the whole time I was in Afghanistan but for the most part, wisdom prevailed. It’s not that…well, it’s that with the distance, email is bad and even now that I’m back, I don’t have her on the radar aside from a few blips here or there. I probably know more about her days than anyone, but I don’t have a clue what she’s thinking or feeling. I ache to talk to her but don’t even know if I can, will, or even have the right to.

Arithmetic on the Frontier

A great and glorious thing it is
To learn, for seven years or so,
The Lord knows what of that and this,
Ere reckoned fit to face the foe--
The flying bullet down the Pass,
That whistles clear: "All flesh is grass."

Three hundred pounds per annum spent
On making brain and body meeter
For all the murderous intent
Comprised in "villainous saltpetre!"
And after--ask the Yusufzaies
What comes of all our 'ologies.

A scrimmage in a Border Station--
A canter down some dark defile--
Two thousand pounds of education
Drops to a ten-rupee jezail--
The Crammer's boast, the Squadron's pride,
Shot like a rabbit in a ride!

No proposition Euclid wrote,
No formulae the text-books know,
Will turn the bullet from your coat,
Or ward the tulwar's downward blow
Strike hard who cares--shoot straight who can--
The odds are on the cheaper man.

One sword-knot stolen from the camp
Will pay for all the school expenses
Of any Kurrum Valley scamp
Who knows no word of moods and tenses,
But, being blessed with perfect sight,
Picks off our messmates left and right.

With home-bred hordes the hillsides teem,
The troop-ships bring us one by one,
At vast expense of time and steam,
To slay Afridis where they run.

The "captives of our bow and spear"
Are cheap--alas! as we are dear.

—Rudyard Kipling

27APR08 Assassination Attempt

Karzai Escapes Unharmed After Taliban Attack

[1] Ali A. Jalali and Lester W. Grau; The Other Side of the Mountain: Mujahideen Tactics in the Soviet-Afghan War; United States Marine Corp Studies and Analysis Division, pp 118-121

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