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

Monday, March 16, 2009

Chapter VI.2

We Are Foghat, Goodnight!

“I would rather be a grass-cutter in India than the ruler of Afghanistan.”

15MAY05 (Journal)

Dream—My Anima Leaves

Last night had a dream that stuck out:

I was working somewhere— I don’t know where though there were military overtones— and Lori D. ends up there as well; she looks like I remember her looking back in junior high. Then she’s telling me how she doesn’t know if she can work here any longer, even though I begged her to come work here and it was going to be all about the mission and the good we could do together. She’s almost crying while saying this, tearing up, saying that she thought I felt a certain way about her and it seems that I don’t and it’s killing her to stay.

While she’s saying this, I’m looking into her eyes and they are Kim’s eyes— the freckles and bangs and yet somehow, it is also Beth. I’m chocked up because all along I have been madly in love with her, yet have tried to play it cool and not be a mess. I also try to explain that I once hurt someone I cared about deeply and have never quite forgiven myself for that and that although I had strong feelings for her, I had never wanted to mislead or hurt her.

…Wrong Answer!

The first days of both Glock and M-4 familiarization are done indoors with dummy rounds and cover the basics of draw and presentation, reloads, trigger control, and sight alignment. Typically it will be one instructor watching three or four guys going through the drills till everyone gets it right or everyone gets tired. There’s often much speculation on who will and won’t likely wash out on the range. Diagnosing ‘problem children’ is just as important as ensuring a firm grasp of the fundamentals because a little extra work here saves a lot of time and aggravation on the range.

One day, amid the sound of magazines hitting the deck and cycling Glocks someone shouted, “Don’t ever put your mouth on your weapon!”

I’ve heard, allegedly true, tales of Iraqi army and police guys being taught that the way to press-check their weapons in the dark was to put the barrel in their mouth and blow into it. If they didn’t feel a breeze on their finger than a round was (likely) in the chamber. There is no end to the kind of craziness you hear on a range, and not just in third-world countries. Even still, there are some things you just don’t expect to ever hear. I looked over at Geezer to my right and asked,

“Did I just hear what I thought I heard?”

“If you heard, ‘don’t ever put your mouth on your weapon,’ than yeah.”

“I gotta go see what the hell this is about. Watch my guys for a sec.”

I walked down the line of students to Logger, who all too happily explained that one of the students had a stove-pipe when the slide cycled forward. We had not yet taught the guys what to do with stoppages yet and the student proceeded, uninstructed, to try to bite the round from its position with his teeth.

I walked back up the line and Geezer and I had a good laugh as I told him what the hell had happened. Just another day at the office.

25MAY05 (Journal)

I didn’t write about the first graduation though I meant to.

The second class graduated Friday. It was the first class I had seen from start to finish— the last class only had two weeks of the training left when I arrived. I was struck then by the immensity of what they had undertaken— not so much the training itself, but the fact that their lives would never be the same again. They had made a choice, picked a road, and their lives would be unalterably different than if they had not.

I tried to frame within the experiences of my own life. The first thing that leapt out at me was Bob D. stating at the intel course in Tulsa, the very first day there, that our lives would never be the same— yeah right. Looking back though, at least in my experience, I can only marvel about how prophetic and true those words were, would be. The other thing that came to mind, of course, was boot camp. And yet, even that is not entirely an apt/correct picture of what took place here. And at this point, I should digress for a moment.

I believe that Karzai is living on borrowed time. He is allowed to live because he is currently useful to the warlords/drug lords/Taliban. When that usefulness is up, Karzai is a walking dead man. Mark my words. A little history for perspective:

“The man who became known as Ahmed Shah Durrani, a celebrated king of Afghanistan, began his career as an unsuccessful bodyguard. His liege, the Persian Emperor Nadir Shah, had conquered lands and treasure as far east as India, but he grew murderous and arbitrary even by the standards of a tyrannical age. Angry couriers attacked him in his royal desert tent in 1747. Durrani found his ruler’s headless torso in a bloody pool. Sensing they were now on the wrong side of Persian court politics, Durrani and his fellow guards mounted horses and rode east for Kandahar, homeland of their tribes, known to the British as Pashtuns.

When Durrani reached Kandahar from the scene of Nadir Shah’s murder, he joined a council of Abdali tribal leaders who had been summoned to a shrine at Sher Surkh to choose a new king. In the first round many of the chiefs boasted about their own qualifications. Ahmed, only twenty-four and from a relatively weak subtribe of the Popalzai, remained silent. To break the deadlock a respected holy man placed a strand of wheat on his head and declared that Ahmed should be king because he had given no cause for anger to the others. The tribal chiefs soon put blades of grass within their mouths and hung cloth yokes around their necks to show they agreed to be Ahmed’s cattle. Presumably the spiritual symbols cloaked a practical decision: The most powerful Abdali chiefs had elected the weakest among them as leader, giving them flexibility to rebel whenever they wished. This was a pattern of Pashtun decision-making about kings and presidents that would persist into the twenty-first century.”[1]

Karzai is from the same subtribe of the Popalzai. When, not if, Karzai is killed (if he doesn’t know when to fold his cards, take his money, and run), I will be damned surprised if one or more of our students are not involved— either by omission or commission.

When first got here; unlike Iraq, where I felt like I only helped GIs and not Iraqis; I felt like I was actually making a difference this go round— even in spite of what I just wrote. Taking with Midday over two non-consecutive nights would ultimately be an eye-opener for me though.

The first night I told him the above, that I thought I was making a difference, if only a small one. He said he was here for the money. I couldn’t believe it. It’s one thing to get killed for something you believe in, however, to get killed for money, it doesn’t matter if you are making $1 or $1 million/day, dead is dead.

The second night, the same conversation started again and Midday made the point that if you believe Karzai is going to get killed in spite of all you do, and likely by the very people you are training, then what exactly is it that you believe in. How are you helping the Afghans? The answer is, I don’t know. I don’t think that a kindergarten teacher knows how her kids are going to turn out but she does the best she can. It’s not that apt of an analogy but the best I can do at the moment.

This is what I believe, that even though the outcome is uncertain doesn’t mean that you don’t try, don’t try to make a difference. Even if only one student walks away from our camp and his life is better, than my time here was worth it. However, I don’t know that that is worth my life. And in the end, I am more cognizant that in many ways, this is my job of choice, what I do to make a buck and I enjoy the excitement, the risk, ad being in the eye of the hurricane. In many ways, it is that seeking out of challenges to test myself, my spirit, my soul.

In spite of all that, I could not help feeling proud of the guys; for what they had done and accomplished— some more than others.

Early Assassination Attempts v. Karzai

05 September, 2002- Kandahar

“Mr. Karzai was in his vehicle in a heavily protected convoy, leaving the guesthouse of the Kandahar governor in the heart of the city.

Huge crowds had gathered to welcome him back to his home town where he was due to attend his brother's wedding.

As he waved to them, a young Afghan boy approached him. The president leaned from his window to exchange traditional greetings.

Moments later the would-be assassin moved in, shooting four times into the president's vehicle.

One of the bullets flew passed Mr. Karzai's ear and hit the Kandahar Governor, Gul Agha Sherzai.

The governor received head injuries but is not in danger. Two bullets pierced windows in the car.

The American bodyguards have been giving Mr. Karzai 24-hour-a-day protection since one of his vice-presidents, Haji Abdul Qadir, was shot dead in broad daylight in Kabul last July.

The attacker has been identified as Abdul Rahman, from the Kajaki area of Helman province, which the president described as a "heavily Taleban" area of southern Afghanistan.

The BBC has learned that Rahman joined the security forces of Kandahar governor only 17 days ago as a policeman.”[2]

“According to an eyewitness, an Afghan boy neared Karzai’s vehicle. Karzai leaned out to shake his hand, as is the custom, and an Afghan in uniform moved forward and fired between four and eight rounds into the car wounding Kandahar Governor Gul Agha Sherzai in the neck. The assassin, a former Taliban, had been recruited into the Kandahar Palace Guard only 17 days earlier. A 23-year-old shopkeeper, who had some martial arts background, wrestled the hitman to the ground and another friendly jumped in to assist. At that point the SEAL blazed away with most of a magazine from an MP5 submachine gun, killing all three.”[3]

16 September, 2004- Gardez

“Afghan President Hamid Karzai escaped an apparent assassination attempt Thursday when a rocket was fired at his helicopter as he was about to land in a provincial capital. The attack caused no injuries or damage, but forced Karzai to cancel his first trip outside Kabul since he began campaigning for presidential elections to be held Oct. 9.

Officials and witnesses said the rocket flew over a crowd of several hundred people waiting to greet Karzai near the town of Gardez, about 80 miles south of Kabul. The president's helicopter was about to land, but instead immediately returned to Kabul without touching the ground.

Security around Karzai, 46, has been extremely tight since he survived an assassination attempt just over two years ago while visiting the southern city of Kandahar. In that incident, a uniformed gunman jumped in front of his vehicle and opened fire, wounding several passengers before being shot by Karzai's security agents.

After that attack, Karzai's Afghan bodyguards were replaced by a U.S. security detail at the Bush administration's insistence, and he has remained largely confined to his heavily guarded palace compound in Kabul.

Karzai was traveling in a U.S. military helicopter for Thursday's trip. A U.S. military spokesman here, Maj. Mark McCann, declined to discuss Karzai's means of transportation, but he confirmed that a rocket had been fired at the president's helicopter and had missed, landing several hundred yards from the school Karzai was to visit.

A purported Taliban spokesman told news agencies in Kabul by telephone that the group had fired the rocket at Karzai. Officials in Gardez, the capital of Paktia province, said Thursday night that they had located the launching site in an abandoned house and arrested several suspects.”[4]


Man, I thought TV had reached the apogee of its arc with robot wars/fighting robots. That was until I saw Dr. Phil on the Osbournes tonight! For half an hour I forgot about Iraq, Afghanistan, the assholes running our country, and even the fact that I was falling down, piss drunk. I even have to believe that even if we were being mortared, I wouldn’t have known. Of course, there were absolutely no benefits, other than the ones I just mentioned, but what a half-hour. Videodrome, here I come.

Thank God it’s Friday

Translators are trouble, or almost always. Every once in a while you get a really good one, like Friday, but more often than not, you wind up with good, but not great, or worse ones.

Translating on the range isn’t as hard as you think. Much of it can be pantomimed and spend enough time on one and you will start to learn the Dari commands yourself. But you have to watch your translator, like an old nag. Suddenly he’s gone off on some five minute rant that only took you fifteen seconds and you’ve got the sneaking suspicion that your ‘terp’ is inexplicably off on his own agenda out in left field somewhere.

The problem is usually that, like you, the terp has been listening to you repeat the same commands over and over day after day and now feels himself qualified to instruct the student themselves or answer their questions directly without involving you in the process— the difference between an English-speaking parrot and an English professor.

Ah, but it’s all part of the fun. Most of the guys, aside from being trouble from time to time, were good dudes and I learned a lot about the country and their culture from them.

Heads Up

Afghans have an expression — "pesh pa been" — referring to people who move relentlessly ahead by watching their own feet.

One of the key components of close protection is the ability to detect an attack as soon as possible, preferably before it has even begun; to that end, your head has to be up and on a swivel. Problem was, many of our guys always seemed to have their heads down, looking at their feet…as if they’d never seen a pair of boots before and just couldn’t get over looking at them. I don’t know how many times I screamed at guys to get their heads up and start scanning.

The flip side to that, which eventually sunk in and left me wondering, was that all our students, obviously, had all their feet, attached to their bodies. Given the number of landmines gifted by the Russians, this was not insignificant and I began to ponder myself, the wisdom of watching carefully where I was stepping in this strange country, particularly as I had a vested interest in all my parts going home configured just the way they’d arrived. Just which was the bigger, or more likely, threat: the unseen, and mechanical, landmine or the unseen human tango with an AK or RPG?

While I never asked, it seems that many of the students, and natives I might add, had done, consciously or unconsciously, their own risk assessment and getting yelled at by me and the other instructors was deemed the lesser of the risks. In hindsight, I can’t say that I disagree with that.

The Dude That Don’t Quit

There is an Afghan that hangs out at the entrance to Camp Phoenix on Jbad road. Every time I have been there for a haircut or PX run or driven by he has been out front. They call him Rambo and he always waves and smiles. Someone took the time to write up his story and this is it; it’s one worth hearing.

“There is trouble outside Camp Phoenix. The American base on the dusty outskirts of Kabul has called for English translators. The problem is, the Americans have now hired their translator, and a crowd of Afghan job hunters at the camp gate is getting unruly.

The U.S. soldiers are nervous. One yells obscenities and waves his gun. The crowd cowers but doesn't budge. Then, another soldier steps forward, armed only with a thick wooden staff, wrapped in peeling red tape.

The name tag on his broad chest says "Rambo," and though he wears U.S. Army fatigues, he speaks in perfect Dari, ordering the crowd to leave. It reluctantly disperses.

This is a normal day for Rambo, an Afghan who has stood guard here for more than four years, pledging his life to the American soldiers that rid his land of the Taliban. But on Jan. 16, Rambo's gatekeeping made him a bona fide hero.

On that day, Rambo wrenched open the driver's side door of a moving car and wrestled a suicide bomber into submission before he could detonate his explosives. President Bush lauded him in a nationally televised speech several weeks ago, and before that, slightly exaggerated accounts of his feat circled through cyberspace, pleading for America to offer him citizenship or at least a medal.

On this gray day, amid the intermittent raindrops of a coming storm, Rambo seems somewhat weary of the story, asking a lieutenant whether he really needs to tell it again. So far as he is concerned, his only job is to protect those American soldiers at the gate. It is why he has taken only four days off in more than four years, even working Fridays, though that is the Muslim day of rest.

But the lieutenant kindly requests Rambo's patience. To Rambo, that is an order. "If you want me to do it, I will do it," he tells her with martial deference.

In fairness, his story is not just about the day he stopped a suicide bomber, when the steel of his resolve to protect American troops became so apparent to all who did not know him. To those who do, who gave him the "Rambo" nickname, the name tag, and the stick, his devotion was already evident.

At every corner of Camp Phoenix, Rambo stops to salute American officers. Soldiers heading out on patrol call out his name as if he were a fraternity brother. He is unquestionably one of them, because he is so willing to make the same sacrifice that they, too, have been called upon to make.

Yet he is also unquestionably Afghan, and never more so than when he smothered his countryman and would-be martyr at the front gate. To Rambo, whose name has been withheld for his protection, what happened that day was a matter of pride — a personal pride that burns deeper than love of country, or family, or faith.

"I made a promise to every American soldier," he says in grave tones. "Even if there is only one American soldier, I will be here to protect him."

Amid Camp Phoenix's soil-filled blast walls and bristling guard towers, designed to keep soldiers separate from the unsettled Afghanistan beyond, Rambo is a living lesson in the character of his country, where friends pledge their lives to defend you and enemies never rest until you have been destroyed.

On a clear, chilly Tuesday in mid- January, those two perceptions of the American presence here collided.

Having spoken for five loving minutes about his well-worn red stick and its many uses in crowd control, the black-bearded Rambo is at last primed to talk about his legendary feat, his dark eyes bright with enthusiasm. He sits on a cold, wooden picnic bench in the Camp Phoenix compound, immune to the freezing rain, his rough and blackened hands working frantically to depict the scene.

When the driver of an off-white sedan did not brake as he approached the gate, Rambo sensed danger. He ran to the door, flung it open, and saw two buttons by the gearshift, each with a wire running to a gas tank that filled the entire back seat.

Before the terrorist could reach the buttons, Rambo seized his hands, and a Security Forces soldier arrived to help. In an instant, it was over.

Later in the day, the car exploded when a demolition team failed to disarm it, but no one was injured.

Before and since the event, Rambo has gotten recognition for his role at Camp Phoenix. In his dark and low-ceilinged room — a nestlike clutter of boxes and badges and potato-chip bags — Rambo displays a letter from the former commander of NATO. There is a framed commendation that bears both the U.S. and Afghan flags, as well as a jumble of military coins given for his service.

In another corner, he uncovers a pile of letters from American soldiers, their wives, and their mothers—one with a lipstick-stained kiss of gratitude. These are his treasures. The thanks he has always received for his service makes his monastic existence worthwhile. Even before Jan. 16, he stayed here from before dawn until after dusk. Now, he lives on the base full time. In fact, he has not been home for three months.

He bears the security measures joyfully. And he doesn't heed the Afghans who roll down their windows and shout obscenities at him as they pass. "I don't care what they say," he says. "I will protect my friends."

Yes, he says, the Americans are here to help hold his country together as it attempts to heal after three decades of misrule and civil war. But more than that, he loves Americans because they have treated him with respect.

"They are good and they have strong hearts," he says.

They have given him this uniform, which is frayed at the cuffs from constant use. They have created a "Rambo fund" to help him get a TV, and have helped two of his sons get jobs. On his shoulder he proudly wears the patches of every unit that has come through Camp Phoenix — each vying for the esteemed piece of real estate that is Rambo's uniform.

"When you think of Camp Phoenix, you think of Rambo," says 1st Lt. John Stephens of 1-180th Infantry Battalion, who is in the midst of his second tour here. "He's the rock of Camp Phoenix."

Rambo's journey to the American side of the war is a simple one. During the days of the Taliban, his wife and one of his children were killed when a rocket crashed into their home. It was not intentional, he says, but it was indicative of the lives ruined by Taliban rule. Moreover, as a member of the Army during a former government, he felt unsafe and eventually fled to Pakistan for refuge.

The fall of the Taliban in 2001 brought him back to Kabul, where he resumed an old job as a truck driver and security guard at a transportation company. When Camp Phoenix commandeered the building used by the transportation company in 2003, Rambo stayed on as a security guard for the new installation. He has been here ever since, and he has been "Rambo" for almost as long.

His handle was the suggestion of a woman who was here during the early days of Camp Phoenix.

"I liked Rambo even from before," he says, betraying no knowledge of anyone named Sylvester Stallone, as if Rambo and the actor are synonymous. "Sometimes he is in a movie where he is wild, and sometimes he has a necktie and is very respectable."

Which Rambo is he? "It depends," he says with a smile. "If a polite man comes, I will be a Rambo who is polite and gentle. But if it is al-Qaeda, I will be the wild Rambo."

Soldiers here will vouch for that, telling of instances where Rambo pulled people out of car windows. Back during Communist times, when he was a tank commander, Rambo says that he cut all the medals off the uniform of a superior officer when the officer (falsely, he insists) accused him of not fixing a tank correctly.

Today, he returns to the gate, huddling beside a fire in an old oil drum along with his American colleagues. They are his responsibility, he says, and he is determined not to forsake that trust.

"I don't want to be blamed," he says. "I promised these people a lot. Dying is better than to be blamed."”[5]

Sent: Wednesday, July 06, 2005 9:16 AM

Subject: What do you do?

I have received many queries recently, "Recondo, after spending numerous, long, and arduous days teaching the Afghan Secret Service how to kill, er, protect their president, what do you do to unwind?" Well, good question and I'd like to answer that. Usually drinking till you go blind is the preferred method of entertainment; you don't have to go anywhere, which significantly reduces the risks. However, that does get old after a while. And then, we head out for a relaxing day at the Kabul Golf Course.

Played TPC? Pebble Beach? Threw up on VJ's shoes? So what, I've played 9 holes at the Kabul Golf Course in combat boots, packing heat, with our own security guard; and I don't even want to talk about the drive to get there. Frank, or was it Dino, said you ain't nobody till somebody loves you but what he meant to say is that you ain't nobody until you have played golf in Kabul.

Although the yardage isn't as great as some courses, it is wildly deceiving and difficult due to the radical elevation changes. For example, the par three 9th is 146 yards but it is all uphill, about 150-200 feet of it and I hit a 5 iron short. Good gosh Jim.

Kabul Golf Course













































The tee boxes are slightly elevated to provide adequate height above the surrounding scrub grass and are comprised of dirt. The fairways are everything between the tee box and the greens (blacks) though by looking, you wouldn't know it. All your shots after the tee shot are played off a small portable Astroturf mat, teed up again (tee just stuck in the dirt), or if you like pain- from where your ball is lying. The greens (blacks) are oiled down sand and insanely slow but won't hold like you'd think when pitching onto them. The following from the club's Tips on How to Play the Course, "The club doesn't have a Stimpmeter but we do know that the browns (greens) are a lot slower than (real) greens." However, at #8 I did manage to sink an 18 footer to save par. Needless to say, it's easy to leave 'em short.

You have two caddies with you, a traditional one to carry the clubs and a "fore caddie" who runs forwards and spots where your ball lands- inshallah. Again, from the Tips on How to Play the Course, "Using a fore caddie should make a provisional ball unnecessary." This is actually true... thru 9 holes I only lost one ball, which ain't bad.

There are no penalties for taking a provisional if you hit into a minefield, and the bunkers, well, they're really bunkers. Speaking of mines, graphite heads (non-ferrous) are not a bad idea for all the obvious reasons. We found an old Russian 82mm mortar in some scrub on one of the fairways; no one thinks you’re any less of a man if you grip up a little and hold your breath and close your eyes when you swing.

Also, there is a club pro and lessons are available. "Lessons are available from the club's English-speaking Pro, Muhammad Afzal Abdul, who had a zero handicap when he played in tournaments before the war. He was the club's last Pro in 1978 and back to supervise the reconstruction. The course first opened in 1967, closed in 1978, and re-opened in 2004."

We talked briefly to Mr. Abdul while squaring up at the end of the round. The guy has to love golf to go through what he has. The Russians came and built bunkers on the course and then arrested him and threw him in prison for six months. When the Taliban came, they arrested him as well and tortured him. When he got out, he fled to Pakistan.

According to our caddies, President Karzai has yet to go out and play, and as far as they know, UBL hasn't played a round there either. In any case, hope that answers your questions.




We had such a good time that we went back again later in the summer on a free day. I’m sure we would have played more but the drive, while not far, was just prohibitive and didn’t justify the risk to life and limb. I mean Christ, when was the last time it took you five minutes to de-kit and stow two Pajero’s worth of M-249s, M-4s, body armor, etc? And that was just the commute.

The course is located out on the western edge of the Kabul near the reservoir, where several locals drown a week in the summer from jumping into the lake and getting stuck in the thick mud below. Ah, it was a good time though. The second time, after finishing the round we sat out under a tree by a stream from the reservoir and had fresh kabobs, Na’an (flat bread) and cold sodas. That was the best kabob I’ve ever had, before or since.

Golf in Kabul: Just like days of fore

KABUL -- I am not a golfer, but that hardly stopped me from having a memorable day at the Kabul Golf Club. You see, the Kabul Golf Club is only barely a golf course.

Its fairways have only recently been cleared of land mines, its "greens" are made of dirt for lack of grass, and two busy roads run through it, filled with horn-tooting young Afghans returning from day trips out of the capital.

Despite these shortcomings, nobody can accuse the club of false advertising when it boasts on the score sheet handed out to players that it is without a doubt the "best, and only" course of its kind in Afghanistan.

The message seems to be catching on.

Since it opened last year, the club has picked up about 60 regular customers, most of them foreigners, said Muhammad Afzal Abdul, the course manager.

A round on the nine-hole course costs $15, with an extra $5 charge for mandatory caddie service.

That's a lot in a country where most people get by on a few dollars a day. But for many expatriates, it's a small price to pay for a round of golf on one of the most unlikely courses in the world.

Even for a terrible golfer like myself, it was a thrill to tee off in the shadow of the snowcapped Hindu Kush mountains, in a country where most of my job involves reporting on the aftermath of war.

Even if the course is rough by Western standards, its condition still represents a stunning reversal of fortune.

The club was all but abandoned after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, when most Western embassies evacuated their staff. During the civil war of the 1990s, warlords lobbed mortars and rockets across the fairways, destroying the clubhouse.

When the hard-line Taliban militia came to power in 1998, it declared golf un-Islamic and shuttered the course, or what was left of it.

Club employees suffered even more.

"The Taliban came to my home one night and took me away," said Abdul, the club pro and Afghanistan's former golf champion. "They brought me to the intelligence service building and beat me every night with cables. They told me golf was a sin and accused me of being at the service of foreigners."

Abdul said that when he got out he found that his infant son had died because his wife was so malnourished she couldn't produce enough breast milk to feed him.

Like millions of his countrymen, Abdul fled to Pakistan, getting a job as a taxi driver in the northwestern frontier city of Peshawar.

When he heard that the club was to reopen, he came back home. He says he sees the future of both the course, and his country, as bright.

"I am very happy now," he said as we walked serenely through the dried-up bed of what was once the club's only water hazard. "We have peace and security in Afghanistan now, and I have been reunited with my golf. It had been way too long since I picked up a club."”[6]

26JUL05 (Journal)

Two years ago today I landed in Baghdad in the back of a Brit C-130. Sitting on the steps of my hooch now, on a typical, windy, summer Kabul night, it seems so much longer and further away than that.

That first night— sitting out in front of the palace with Marc and “Scary” Larry; I had some cigars and Marc some whisky. I scared up some warm cokes from somewhere and we sat out there drinking, smoking, and listening to the APCs and Bradleys drive by the gates in front of the palace…one of those surreal moments that you just can’t ever recreate.

It was all so strange and my eyes were so new. Everything was imbued with a magicalness that has not been matched in intensity since— not even my first days in Kabul, when this place was a winter wonderland. It wasn’t just my eyes, back then, everything was still new at the palace— there were no set ways (or even ways), or SOPs; it was being made up as we went along and the walls were permeated with a sense/spirit of adventure, uncharted territory and a can-do spirit.

That was eventually choked, strangled out and painted over by the career politicians, incontinent bureaucrats, and the professionally anal-retentive. I realize that it is inevitable; however, in Iraq, they arrived way to damn soon and you can still see the blowback from their wild incompetence. In Kabul, they had arrived here long before I did so all I have ever known here is triplicate and paperwork…you don’t miss what you never knew.

I have spent seventeen of the last twenty-four months in Iraq or Afghanistan; seen some pretty crazy shit. It’s not often that you get to see history being made, up close and personal, getting your two cents in from time to time. Some things I wouldn’t trade for anything, others I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemies— a lotta laughs and just as many, if not more, hot, frustrated tears.

A few friends and I have truly lived in and done things that other people read about in books. Anyone can join the military and go to war— it is not a singularly unique experience— but to have been in that place at that time, doing that job…it was truly a once in a lifetime experience/opportunity. Many others have followed, most seeming of a lesser cut. And though they puffed out their chests, we quietly laughed at them, blindly unaware of a time before themselves or that for the most part, they were following a trail that we had already blazed for them.

I have been stupidly lucky and divinely fortunate, yet cannot overlook the hard work that posited me in that doorway when it opened. It is with a sense of accomplishment and pride that I look back at the last two years.

It somehow seems fitting that I finished compiling the third and final Iraq Road Trip CD tonight— finally saying everything I have to say about it in that manner.

Foolish men called Afghanistan "a school of courage" and were wise enough not to send their sons there.

~ Artyom Borovik

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

Vignette 9 from Chapter 14: Urban Combat

Raid on the Kabul Metropolitan Bus Transportation Authority

By Commander Shahabuddin


Commander Shahabuddin is from Shewaki Village south of Kabul.

Raid on the Kabul Metropolitan Bus Transportation Authority

The Kabul Metropolitan Bus Transportation Authority is located on the eastern side of the city and served as the central buss terminal for 130 buses. In October 1983, I assembled 120 Mujahideen for the raid at our base in Yakhdara. We had 16 RPG-7s, three mortars, three 82mm recoilless rifles and numerous small arms. I divided the force into three 20-man teams to attack the Bagrami Textile Company, the police station, and our main objective - the city bus transportation authority. Sixty men constituted the security element, which would secure our route of advance and withdrawal. A primary consideration of the urban guerrilla is always covering his route of retreat. We moved our force from our base and spread out into the surrounding villages. To preserve mission security, only my subcommanders knew the plan. Once we were in position, the commanders would brief their men and tell them what to do. The first group went to the textile mill. The second group, reinforced with an 82mm recoilless rifle, a mortar and some RPG-7s, set out to attack the police station at Kart-e Naw. I commanded the main attack against the bus authority. As we moved, we posted security elements outside all security outposts in the area. I sent one group of Mujahideen to the Eqbal cinema to attack the security outpost located there so that they would not interfere with our raid. As our Mujahideen were getting ready to attack the outpost, a roving jeep patrol came by. They destroyed the jeep with a rocket. The soldiers at the security outpost saw the burning jeep and ran away. The Mujahideen captured three Kalashnikovs at this site.

I led my group to the large enclosure of the bus transportation authority. When we got there, I posted a few guards to prevent anyone from surprising us. Then we attacked the security detachment at the bus park. We killed eight, captured two and torched 127 buses in the enclosure. Only three buses escaped destruction. We also captured 13-14 Kalashnikovs and 155 bayonets! We withdrew over our escape route to our base camp. Here, I learned that the group attacking the textile mill fired their mortar and heavy weapons and inflicted damage on the building. Kabul was without full bus transportation for a good while.

Author’s Commentary

The urban guerilla attacks the credibility of the government by chipping away at morale, attacking notable government targets and disrupting the daily life of the populace. The bus terminal was an optimum target since it clearly demonstrated the reach of the Mujahideen and slowed the life of the capital city considerably.

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

Vignette 29 from Chapter 4

Repelling a Raid on Security Post

By Major I. A. Egiazarov

Repelling a Raid on a Security Post

During the second half of June 1982, the high command decided to strengthen and expand Afghan government power around the city of Rukha in the Panjsher valley. They decided to do this during the course of an operation in the Panjsher valley, which involved Afghan government troops and a SPETSNAZ detachment. The Afghan Army had a series of security outposts on the dominant heights surrounding Rukha. These posts were poorly fortified, there were not enough soldiers and heavy weapons to hold them and the Afghan soldier’s morale was low. The high command decided to reinforce the existing force and to add additional outposts by assigning men from a SPETSNAZ detachment to man them (the 31st SPETSNAZ Group of the 177th SPETSNAZ Detachment).

Thus on the 13th of June, I received orders to take my 31st SPETSNAZ Group and occupy the heights opposite the rest of the force across the Panjsher River. I was a lieutenant at the time. My commander wanted me to establish an observation post and look for Mujahideen activity in the area of the hamlet of Marishtan. This would also deny the enemy the opportunity to conduct his own reconnaissance and launch a surprise attack on our battalion.

There were 15 men in my 31st SPETSNAZ Reconnaissance Group. Besides small arms, we had two AGS-17 automatic grenade launchers, one DShK heavy machine gun and one 82mm "tray" mortar. An artillery battery that belonged to the SPETSNAZ detachment supported us. We expected enemy action in the region on 15 or 16 July, and that action might include an assault on the security outposts.

We occupied our assigned peak on 15 July and began fortifying the position. This was our order of work. First, prepare firing positions and establish an integrated, comprehensive firing plan. Second, fortify the positions with local materials to blend in with the natural terrain and build covered shelters for the troops. Third, build tiered observation posts out of stone and clay. Fourth, mine the approaches to the post. Fifth, on a nearby terrace, build a hidden tanglefoot obstacle. Sixth, organize an uninterrupted schedule of observation and security. Three men were always on guard during the day and seven men were always on guard at night. The detachment resupplied us with ammunition and food every three days.

About 1830 hours on 18 July, we were eating dinner and observation was lax - probably my lookouts had also decided to eat without my authorization. During this time of relaxed vigilance, the enemy sneaked onto our high terrace, climbed to within 10 meters of our defensive position and simultaneously opened fire with three DShK heavy machine guns from "Black Hill" and "Fang Mountain". My men, with the exception of two lookouts, dove behind the walls and in the dugouts for shelter. The guerrillas had resolutely seized the initiative and pushed their attack forward, throwing grenades as they came. The Mujahideen having climbed onto our high terrace ran toward our defenses, but were caught in our tanglefoot. This broke their attack and we were able to destroy them with fire from our dugouts. The enemy left four corpses on the terrace. The rest withdrew under the cover of DShK fire. We had no casualties.

Editor’s Commentary

Even, and sometimes especially, in elite forces, the commander must stay on top of his personnel and ensure that they maintain vigilance and perform other routine soldier’s duties. Soldier’s carelessness almost led to the destruction of this observation post

[1] Steven Coll, Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001, p. 280-1

[3] Lt. Col. Robert K. Brown, USAR (Ret.), SEAL Team Six in Kabul: Eliminate the Threat, December 2002 Soldier of Fortune

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.