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

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Chapter VI.6

It's Not That You're A Loser...

He added: “Right now, there is no meritocracy here. It’s, ‘Hey, your sister has a pretty mouth — do you want to be a general?’ ”

…It’s Just That You’re Not My Kind of Winner

From: rEcondo@gmail.com
Sent: Wednesday, December 21, 2005 1:14 PM
To: panj0@yah00.com
Subject: RE: (no subject)

If I didn’t tell you this already, there’s actually a topper.

PPS was in a huge pissing match with EPD (and not unrightly so, they hate those jackasses). Cheney leaves by helo with the ass and trash behind him and EPD is trying to get vehicles through Arianna- the whole circle looks like an EPD parking lot. Seems that EPD thought that the ambo was still in the palace when he had actually left for Bagram with the VP. They actually asked us if we knew where the ambo was. We laughed our asses off; EPD lost the principal; how sweet is that? Jackasses.

Also, when Dumsfeld flew in today, he was originally supposed to fly into the palace- ended up going to ISAF HQ. PPS told him they would have to use the ANA soccer field vice xxxxx as that was the POA’s LZ. God, these guys are killing me. They are looking to stick it to anyone they can.

Lastly, at the parliament bldg, EPD called Hobbit over to tell him, which he subsequently passed on after calling us together, that if we saw the SS start dropping their kit we should get the fuck out of ours as fast as possible as the SS ECM suite was capable of cooking off all the small arms ammo within range. It was at this point that I indicated the unlikelihood that even the SS wanted 1000’s of unguided rounds cooking off ivo their principle (POTUS) or themselves. At this point, Lenny, with his I can see into the future glasses, launched into a rather amusing dissertation listing the reasons why this was physically impossible. It was just one more of those unreal, surreal moments that I would never believe if I hadn’t been there myself.

“Who knows where this is going. Just enjoy the ride.”

And on that note I’m out.

Happy Festivus,

Slow ride

From: panj0@yah00.com
Sent: Wednesday, December 21
To: rEcondo@gmail.com
Subject: (no subject)


What a nightmare there! It is gooned the F out period. Too many personalities- top to bottom inside and out.

The Col. (pause)! Well I've known him and I've trusted him BUT there is so much in-fighting at Nxxxx’s level and resentment and the 100 or so who walked and quit years back and the Col being one of the 10 who remained behind and loyal etc. I've heard the truth about it and the Col is one of those last standing and others snaked there way back in and are now in charge in positions higher than him. I like the Col. very much but not sure of the support he gets from xxxx’s office. Don't ever rust XXXX and watch what you say to him especially in his office - not sure if that happens much anymore.

Never get off the boat, and if you do, never get off without a spoon, and never trust whitey! I still live by that rule to this day and have so for almost 20 years - the part about not trusting the white man - my whole life! Can't blame the PPS at all for this.

I saw a separation, especially as Dyn was punching. They saw their independence / our departure and DS let them know it was not theirs. Plus with idiots like Mxxxx there - can incompetence get more advanced! PPS is a turd that can never be polished - hate to put it that way but, as a program it is. Not the people as a whole. But a worthless standup and execution over three years now is writing on the wall. In the end it will be what is will be - grossly unqualified people in suites doing their best. If the embed is there for two more minutes or 20 more years it will not make the difference. I've said when the US quits the support for this man they are, saying open season.

I'm sure you have the calendar on the wall like we all do and that is the saving grace next to the paycheck. So mark the days and count your money!! Thanks for the kind words and diddo amigo. Happy times and good rum and music!


From: pąnj0@yah00.com
Sent: Tuesday, December 27, 2005
To: Rēc0ndo@gmail.com
Subject: Re: ...with my mind on my $ and my $ on my mind...


Is someone with early Augusto Pinochet Ugarte ties ordering these - and matching uniform patch and ascots!!!

From: Rēc0ndo@gmail.com
Sent: Tuesday, December 27, 2005
To: pąnj0@yah00.com
Subject: RE: ...with my mind on my $ and my $ on my mind...

It gets even better. Sent the same pictures to May-day, who is currently at XXXX, he called up freaking out, wanting to know if the pics were for real. I said yeah, laughing. He asked if the embed DS agent knew and I replied that I didn’t know. He asked if XXXX knew and I said yeah. He asked what he said, and I replied that, “they were pretty damned ugly.”

I got all the time in the world for May-day, but this just killed me. Maybe it’s just the embed team, as burnt out as we are, but no one thought to get mad, only to try to not fall off our chairs laughing our asses off….when we’re not crying. Christ, as punishment for the Advance guy who pulled his gun on ANP dude who wouldn’t let him pass (the advance guy told the ANP he was a thief upon questioning) they took the CAT TL and made him the CS TL and vice versa while dumping the former Advance guy into CAT. The respective Embed guys’ heads are fucking spinning and everyone is pissed. Thank you Nxxxx. Maybe DoS can order him a pair of fucking balls. Good gosh Jim!

Don’t worry man, you called it like it was, though no one wanted to hear it, and, sadly for Afghanistan and the average tax-payer, I have no doubt that you will be vindicated. Bill D, with help from Jim S has written up a mission statement for the embeds. WE ARE NOT TO CONDUCT ANY TRAINING, THAT IS WHAT WXXXX IS FOR. Pat and I just shook our heads. Seems that we are re-writing SOPs, even though that is what we did for all of OCT. I am now torn between writing XX off, and cultivating them so we will have an elite commando unit in place, when we re-invade this place in 5-10 years.

Lastly, as the last laughing point, XXXX, quite accurately, recommended a leadership course for the Afghan TL’s. May-day received the copy today, entitled something like, “The Police’s Role in Combating Transnational Terrorism”. That’s about par for the course. Some things never change buddy. Ah yes, the internal threat is growing.

We’ll know for the first time if we’re evil or divine…


From: pąnj0@yah00.com
Sent: Tuesday, December 27, 2005 3:25 PM
To: Rēc0ndo@gmail.com
Subject: Re: ...with my mind on my $ and my $ on my mind...


What did I say about XXXXX the other week? You cannot take a group of 12 year olds and make them Secret Service agents. The training should be f'n sustainment training at this point - not reinventing the wheel. That is the most over-killed over-mismanaged over-budgeted over-stupidity program on the planet

XXXX is very corrupt; never to turn your back on him or trust in him for anything - he is a snake. I know you know this. They are all about gathering intel nowadays like kids with "I Spy" shit from Toys Are Us - weird. Crayons to perfume or maybe mud brick to mud brick with straw!

Best of sanity luck to you. Hopefully no one will get "too killed" with celebratory fire on New Year's Eve!

From: Rēc0ndo@qmail.com
Sent: Tuesday, January 03, 2006 11:39 AM
To: pąnjo@yah00.c0m
Subject: All Rat Bastards Suck the Pipe Eventually!

Remember the MoI general that hit Asxxx at the Stadium on Massoud Day? He tried to bully his way past the CATs today at a venue. They let the lead vehicle pass but not the follows. When the follow vehicles tried to force their way through a CAT guy fired a three round burst from his AK (where did he learn that, we don’t teach that at Campy W?) and took out one of the tires of the car, which sped away. In the aftermath, one of the general’s drivers hit Qxxx and was immediately flattened by a heard of CAT and Gate guys. Axxxx and Mxxx had to intervene to save the guys life. What was that old saying about common sense being the better part of valor?

Now, I have no idea where the CAT guy was actually aiming, and as you know, it is hard not to be cynical, but whether by accident or design the guys did good today, and I am sure their mammas are proud of ‘em.

You may be surprised to know that I had no interest in participating in the whole mess but instead hunkered down over the ACOG behind our hard car, knowing that Rookie had the six.

There was more threatened action, which I won’t go into here (want to give a shout out to my friends at the Chinese Embassy and the NSA), that never materialized. I would be surprised though if the general is not already behind bars answering questions posed by D-“Da”— xxxxxx was not pleased

Word was that ANA sided with the MoI guys and that could have got ugly but did not, yet. Thank god EPD was still not on the site or this would be a much longer email.

Sitting here writing this, I have to laugh, you could be here a 100 years and you would never see it all. Ahhhh shit, sigh.

When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro,


As an afterthought, I have to suspect that the reason the CAT guys did so well was because Sir John was on vacation.

From: pąnj@yah00.c0m
Sent: Tuesday, January 03, 2006 3:05 PM
To: Riic0ndo@qmail.com
Subject: Re: All Rat Bastards Suck the Pipe Eventually!


Never be near any access point!! I lived by that rule in I & A - especially with PPS unless it was quiet on all fronts. So much bravado etc. Plus the ANA and PPS and D (fill in the number:) do not get along and are jealous. Seems like a déjà vu email or conversation here. But one day it will be a Wild West shoot out - long standing prediction. Shit happens but just don't be there when it does!! My guess is that the shots were meant to be in the air as a warning - ha ha!! I know they did good - no one got killed! - and it all worked out - sorta kinda maybe ........xxxxx's sitrep must be interesting.


From: reC0Ndo@qmail.com
Sent: Wednesday, January 04, 2006
To: pąnj@earthlink.com
Subject: RE: All Rat Bastards Suck the Pipe Eventually!

We hot-washed the last three moves today and the RSO came along for the ride. An hour and a half into it (of which only 5 mics had been in English) he decided he had had enough. Welcome to my world mofo!

However, as they were talking about the shooting yesterday, I had an overriding thought: “Why didn’t more PPS shoot when the first guy did?

Let me explain. I spent a good deal of time at Campy W before coming downtown and have seen these guys in training. Having seen both, I would lay out as two givens- they are not very tactically proficient and they are not very disciplined.

Given that, how many times on the range did you see a guy mis-hear a command and watch the guy next to him, who heard the command correctly, mimic the guy who was wrong, believing he was right? Personally, I can’t count the number of times.

So, based on their training, it is my hypothesis that once the first guy opened up, MORE PPS should have also. I find that the fact that they didn’t an aberration which leads me to one of two conclusions- one slightly less disturbing than the other and I don’t know which is closer to the truth.

  1. All the PPS agents on scene (other than the shooter) were in condition white and so surprised by the burst of fire that they were reduced, or frozen, in the mode of spectator, unable to comprehend what had just taken place and unable to take any action until it was too late to do so- hence no further gun-play. This is the worst of the two possibilities.

  1. All the PPS agents on scene WERE paying attention and ALL of them, other than the shooter, did not assess the threat to be high enough to pull the trigger or even remove the weapon off of safe, sympathetic fire possibly accounting for other PPS agent’s firing, if they had done so.

It is also worth noting that the shooter fired off a three round burst, and all though I will have to double-check, we have never taught full-auto. I realize that the first setting “off safe” on the AK is auto, but the fact that the shooter fired a burst IMPLIES to me that the adrenaline monkey was riding his back and he went to the first thing that would allow him to pull the trigger. However, he didn’t let half the mag rip. The flip side of course is that he meant to do what he did, but as some Sponge song, whose name I can’t remember and don’t care to look up, goes; “…I am doubting.” Additionally, the shooter was the former Sniper TL who had been transferred to CATs in a Xxxxx move that I still don’t understand.

The one thing I am sure of is that as white devils, we will never get the straight skinny. However, I feel that I have a pretty good BS detector and all the points, at least for me, just don’t add up on this one.

Given what was briefed on the shooting, I don’t know that it was righteous; however, it will up the respect for PPS in everyone’s eyes who hears about the story. On the other hand, we now run the risk of inviting more of the same behavior. It is a fine line, and there are days where I wish I could see the world in black and white, thereby simplifying my life. Ahh well, I don’t often have to apologize and rarely ask for forgiveness…a pirates life for me.



16JAN06 (Journal)

It was last Wednesday AM— I think. Woke up, probably still drunk— stupid early week group tightner— and $50 poorer but with the overriding imperative to find my way to my laptop at al costs and hit the refresh button.

I knew; I was certain that Gwen had replied to my email of the night before and could not wait to read, drown in her words. Alas! There was no email and I stumbled sadly back to bed, awash in disappointment.

Although I could never tell her, would not want to put that specific and god-forsaken burden on her; her writing, her voice is a line back to the ‘real world’ this time out; tying me back to things, feelings I had lost, forgotten and only too lately rediscovered.

It used to be easy— this war-torn world seemed more real then the one I’d left behind. This time however, I feel tired and I, though faintly, remember things. And suddenly I wonder, where I never used to, if there is a life for me back in the real world.

Once again I find myself at the threshold of the real and supernatural worlds, of the land of the living and the land of the dead and dying— after having been through life-changing adventures and losses. I am the wiser for my travels but it is meaningless unless I can return to share my knowledge, my wisdom, healing.

Losing Denver

When I moved to Denver

the one inescapable truth

was always to the west.

When I came to Kabul

the mountains looked much the same

but I was always thrown off

because instead,

they were to the south.

And now, I have been here long enough

that the inescapable truth

is that the mountains are to the south.

And I feel a small pang of


because I have lost

a part of Denver.

17JAN06 (Journal)

The shit these idiots expect us to do! Good god! Leaving on the pre-advance tomorrow, the old man wants to fly into Kunduz and then motor on over some 39-48 miles to Talaqan through the valley of death. Only CFC Lt. (USN) Cisco won’t get us all the air assets we need to even get M/C’s in, much less everyone else. XXXX is now talking about having 100 PPS agents drive some 300 miles in a soft-skin motorcade to get the pre-posters there— with no support.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, they are now saying that Kunduz can’t handle a C-17 so they are looking at flying into Mazar-i-Sharif, some 160 miles west of Kunduz, making for about a 200-mile one-way trip to Talaqan on bad roads after several snowstorms. Did I mention that the whole place is ambush alley? This is going to get pushed back— there is no way we can do the whole advance and get back to Kabul in one day. Of course, the flip side is that if they fly Karzai in on a C-130 into Kunduz— he’ll probably be shot down.

And all I wanted was a chance to hold Gwen in my arms.

Advance from Hell



provincial capital of the Northern Alliance

Walking out into the middle

of a snow-covered park

with no cover—


some three to four football fields long

and one and a half wide

to retrieve

a most intangible thing—

a two-letter ten-digit reading

that differentiated that square foot

of snow and mud

as distinct from all other square feet

of snow and mud

on the planet—

where the two Herm CH-53’s,

black iron crosses on OD skin,

would land…


He was not overly alarmed



One portion of his mind

sitting back

looking at the sheer stupidity,


of what he was doing.

Another part,

artistic maybe—

saw the glistening snow,

the low mountains, trees—

360° panoramic

little me framed in that—

felt the bullet

and then heard the shot

paused in mid-stride

and then falling slowly

face first

hands still gripping his M-4

into the snow

feeling it hard and crunchy

at first

and then soft and cool

as he broke through the crust

biting his lip in the process

laying there

warm blood

slowly turning the snow red

wondering bemusedly

in denial

just what the fuck

he should do?

How did he get


No idea where the shot came from

nowhere to run to

and frustrated as hell

because he had promised


he’d fly out to San Diego

which now seemed

a very long ways


to see her.

He blinked

was still standing

no bullet hole

torn through his heart.

He took a knee

sinking into the cold snow

leaning over the top of his M-4

scanning the surrounding buildings

through his ACOG

thumb easy on the selector switch—


He closed his eyes briefly

and took a long, slow breath

sinking into himself a little

as he exhaled

the M-4 cool

against his right cheek.

He opened his eyes and lowered the barrel

resting it on a thigh

as he pulled his GPS

out of a spare-mag pouch.

He squinted at the display

as the sun came out

from behind a bank

of dirty-gray clouds—

instant glare—

marking the grid

and then copying it down

in his wheel book

for good measure

cursing German helo’s

in general

and this advance

in particular.

Full-Metal Sheehan had worked his way round

the western edge of the field

finding a way across

the canal

and waved.

He stood up

slowly, squinting

scanning one last time

and then turning

trying to “turtle”

into his body armor

as best he could

a chill shiver running

down his spine.

19JAN06 (Journal)

Anyway, I was lying in bed this AM thinking about what I had written before. Couldn't tell you exactly what I had written but knew that I had gotten it all wrong and will have to rewrite it- it just didn't capture the...I don't know, what I was feeling, thinking, and the absurdities of it. It was too cold, no heart.

Here I am, in what was the provincial capital of the Northern Alliance, walking out into the middle of a park covered in snow, with no cover, some 3-4 football fields long and 1 1/2 wide to retrieve the most intangible thing-- a two letter ten digit reading that differentiated that square foot of snow and mud as distinct from all the other square feet on the planet.

I was not overly alarmed, yet alert...one portion of my mind was sitting back and looking at the sheer stupidity and ludicrousness of what I was doing. Another part- artistic maybe- saw the snow, the mountains, the trees-- 360 degree panoramic--little me framed in that-- felt the bullet and then heard the shot-- paused in mid stride and then falling slowly face first, hands still gripping my M-4, into the snow- feeling it hard and crunchy- biting my lip- at first and then soft and cool as I broke through the crust-- laying there, warm blood slowing turning the snow red- wondering bemusedly what the fuck I should do-- how did I get here- no idea where the shot came from, nowhere to run to and frustrated because I had promised Gwen I'd fly out to San Diego- which now seems a very long ways away- to visit her.


He walked out confidently, only because he had to, leading the three-man patrol behind him. He reached the edge of the objective and everyone spread out; except for the one moron in the group- a Navy pilot jack-ass who still had his borrowed rifle slung over his shoulder in order to take pictures. He was horrified to see the slung rifle and immediately decided that he was not worth the other two lives!

However, the perimeter wasn’t good enough, he had to “pull a grid” from the middle. He stepped out into the white mass, his brown boots sinking 12 inches into the crisp white snow.

And as his distance from his cover fire cleared 100m, he was suddenly so all alone in the open, struck by the vision of viewing himself outside himself, behind and slightly to the right as the bullet tore into his back and out through his chest- in spite of his body armor… throwing him agonizingly slow-motion into the virgin-white snow—bleeding a dirty brown-red on the snow around him as he struggled…for anything. The pain…there was no pain, only the agony of knowing that he needed to get up…to get up because he had promised to see her once again. God it was cold.

And he took a knee, well and fit— no bullet hole through his heart— scanning from left to right through his scope, covering Pat as he checked the far east portion of the objective; scanning east through the west, knee cold and tight, ready in the snow; his thumb on the safety. All was well and he slowly rose to his feet, scanning again. And yet, he felt the bullet through his heart and the lack of her presence even though he trusted her completely and would/could do nothing to worry her.

03FEB06— Unsent letter to Gwen:


Once again— so much for wisdom— I feel like I have strained the credibility of our re-newfound relationship; and it pains me to know end. If I were a better man…well…I am at a loss at how to— through some 11,000 miles— I don’t want to say fix, because I don’t know that anything is broken and it implies that I have the solution. Anyway, I wouldn’t know how to close the not-so-insurmountable distance that I feel I have created between us.

I don’t know if the ‘voice’ of my words is carrying through or not and it is imperative that it does, so I will try to describe it— I can’t tell you how much I regret not saying, fuck it, and getting on a plane to see you. And the thing I woke up wondering, that preceded all this— well, actually it won’t make any sense unless I precede it with this…

Check that, I must still be drunk if I’m gonna say what I think I’m gonna say.

Gwen, in anyone’s life, a panoply of people stand apart for any number of reasons. You however, in my life, stand out singularly— and you may not believe this— as being the only person who has truly understood (??) me; and you’re beautiful. Things you have said, written, and done have sliced through all my armor, lies, and illusions and cut/touched me to the quick, to my naked soul. I feel, sometimes, that I know you so well and yet at other times, you are a complete and wonderful mystery to me. And as much as I have wanted to at times, I couldn’t let you go.

So, getting back to the question, that is why I wrote you on your birthday last year, in spite of the fact that I really didn’t feel like I had a right to. I was surprised as hell that you wrote back and even more surprised that you called me a friend. And suddenly, I am sad, the humor and light having fled the room as I— the beauty and smile that I tainted, stole.

But the question, I knew I’d get around to it— why in god’s name did you give me your phone number so I could call you??? I am the last person on this platen who deserves to get it and have been wracking my brain all morning for an answer with no success.

Now, that I have re-read this, thanks to distance and technology, I am afraid to hit “send”. The words are permanent, I can’t see your expression or reaction and can’t add or delete to further the comprehension of what I am trying to say and may not have written well at all. However, I guess I have always been a little braver than smarter.


Listening to Hunger from Blackhawk Down

as Red and I pull out of Arianna Circle with the Advance Team—


waaay too early

the sun still below the ghars to the east,

headed for the Loya Jirga site

and eight hundred, likely angry, opium farmers;

just short of where the suicide bombers

blew up Mujadadi’s armored Land Cruiser the other day.

The music takes me out of myself, detached

and back to you…

two a.m.

asleep in a hotel room in Germany

hair spilled out on the pillow

a soft blond halo

in the pale western moon light.

I stretch out next to you

watching you gently breathing

wondering what you are dreaming about

and how I got to be here—


And for a moment the Land Cruiser drives itself

effortlessly threading the chicanes.

I want to stay longer

to never leave

this fantastic creature lying before me

but the Land Cruiser lurches

and I am ripped back into the present

a lingering warmth caressing my neck

as a cool-gray, dirty, deserted

Kabul morning street

silently slides by.

06MAR06 (Journal)

“Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid.”

Have forgotten already who said that, it’s in my hip notebook but am too damned lazy to look now.

Anyway, last Tuesday it was— bummed out that the Olympics were over. It was great to have something on the TV that you could listen to music over; made things less lonely. Sounds weird but it was true.

So anyway, I have the guide channel on and see that AFRTS are now showing an hour of Mad About You. The surrealism is overwhelming. Helen Hunt playing Jamie Stimple could have been damn close to Gwen and sadly, maybe wrongly, served as a substitute for everything I wanted and couldn’t have. And now, when Gwen is again beyond my reach, here comes Mad About You. It is a crazy coincidence…or maybe not. I should say more but can barely keep my eyes open. Only that I miss Gwen so much it hurts.

08MAR06 (Journal)

Been thinking lately, probably too much, about Gwen; don’t even know where to start. Feel like I have become closer to her as time has gone on here— that the distance between us has narrowed— though it still seems like there is too much. Anymore I think about her constantly, can’t get her off my mind. Have tried to open up a little at a time without being too much— and often in return it seems like I don’ get much back. And I guess, now that I say it, given my past glowing track record and her divorce, I guess I’m really not too surprised.

Christ, once again I feel like I am lost in no-man’s land without a map. I don’t need much, but a little feedback goes a long way— she barely acknowledged the Valentine’s Day gifts or her rug and I don’t know if I am making a jackass of myself or not. God, I can’t pressure her but…but what? What did Shane say, just enjoy it? I guess it really is the karma of right action— give up all thoughts of the outcome and just do the right thing and enjoy yourself. And I can see it; giving up any thought of the outcomes frees you up to be fun, spontaneous, mysterious, baffling, whatever. Which strikes me as why I write (when I do anymore); it’s not for an outcome but for the sake, the act of writing.

08MAR06 (Journal)

Started reading Revolt on the Tigress tonight and was taken back to my time in Iraq by some of the descriptions and it suddenly struck me how far way it all seems now. There was a time when it was so immediate, when it seemed like my whole world, that I was being reborn out of the heat, fire, and sand and that the intensity and weight of that time and place would follow me forever like a specific gravity or dark shadow. It now almost seems like the memories I have are someone else’s that I read somewhere. I a sense, it is a relief.

13MAR06 (Journal)

Walked out to the Global CP south of the embassy last night to give Nazif a DVD he needed for a presentation for the president— the aftermath of the VBIED assassination attempt against Mujadadi. There was almost a full moon and the wind was blowing— an ill wind and an ominous moon. The phrase “Ides of March” kept going though my head, popping up at inopportune times like a bad omen.

That afternoon I had lain in my rack after lunch, half-asleep withCNN on, as I usually do. Half-conscious, I could feel a tension in the air which was magnified this evening. I wondered if the morning’s VBIED attack vs. Mujadadi had something to do with it. But more distantly and imperceptibly, it felt like the last fail-safe had been quietly passed without fanfare or recognition— whether we attack Iran or not— and that the last great slide had started, the pace quickening and no longer able to be turned back, aside, or denied. Big and bad days are ahead and the Ides of March will only be the beginning.

Two days ago I would have told you that a direct attack/coup against the palace in Kabul was a non-threat/non-issue as long as foreign troops remained in country, but more importantly, Kabul. Now, however, XXXXX is concerned about the “potential” of an ANA-led uprising within the Palace, and in the light of that, I can no longer discount it out of hand. The winds have changed and it would seem that I’m not the only one to notice.

The attack v. Mujadadi, though poorly executed, represents a major effort, particularly in that it took place within Kabul and it’s timing somehow seems very well placed or most inopportune— depending upon which side of the fence you happen to be sitting.

Last Man

All the armies had long



in futility, taking their dead

and wounded with them—

the winner long forgotten.

But I,

I remained

waiting in no-man’s-land

trapped betwixt heaven and hell—

last man out

killing time till the inevitable,

the next war.

One Taliban leader said, the West may have the watches, but the Taliban have the time.

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 38 from Chapter 5

Convoy Escort and Combat Near Maliykhel'

By Major A. I. Guboglo


Major A. I. Guboglo served in the Limited Contingent of Soviet Forces in Afghanistan (OKSVA) from 1981 to 1983 as a motorized rifle platoon leader. He was awarded the “Order of the Red Star” and the medal “For Valor”.

Convoy Escort and Battle near Maliykhel’

During the winter of 1982, several guerrilla detachments worked near the village of Maliykhel’ on the Kabul- Ghazni highway. The guerrillas would launch attacks on Soviet military convoys.

On the 11th of December 1982, the commander of the 7th Motorized Rifle Company (7th MRC, 3rd Motorized Rifle Battalion, 191st Separate Motorized Rifle Regiment) received orders to escort a truck convoy from Ghazni to Kabul and return. They were to insure the unimpeded movement of the convoy in both directions on the 170-kilometer stretch.

The road march to Kabul went as planned and the enemy did not try to attack the convoy. After loading the trucks, we were prepared for our return trip to Ghazni. My company commander decided to place two BTRs at the head and two BTRs at the tail of the column and then intersperse five BTRs within the truck column. He put a BTR between every eight trucks. He had the 1st Motorized Rifle Platoon (MRP) serve as a reconnaissance platoon and move ten kilometers in front of the convoy. The average road speed of the convoy would be 35-40 kilometers per hour. There would be one rest stop at the end of three hours driving.

In case the enemy would attack the column with small arms, the BTRs and helicopter gunships would place maximum firepower on the enemy while the convoy moved out of the kill zone. As a variant, should the terrain permit, the BTRs would roll right over the ambush sites of the attacking enemy.

At 0730 hours on 13 December, my company commander gave the order and the convoy moved out. After 30 minutes of travel, one of our heavy-transport trucks broke down. My company commander had another transport truck link up with this vehicle and tow it right behind his command BTR at the front of the column. At 1115 hours, the lead vehicles of the main body approached the green zone near the village of Maliykhel’. As the vehicles crossed the river bridge, the enemy activated a radio-controlled, command-detonated mine which damaged the towing vehicle. The passage was blocked. At that instant, the enemy opened fire on the convoy from positions on the dominant heights.

Attempts to push the trucks off the bridge failed. The company commander decided to have his 2nd MRP flank the bridge site through a gully. However, the enemy had mined the exit from the gully. The 2nd platoon’s lead BTR hit a mine. Attempts to extricate this BTR failed, and while they were trying, another BTR hit another mine. Taking stock of his increasingly untenable situation, the company commander ordered the 3rd MRP to dismount and take hill 1760. This was my platoon. I manuevered my first squad into a position where they could pin down the enemy with fire from the front. Then, I took my 2nd and 3rd squads to flank the enemy and hit him from the flank and rear. By 1145, we had successfully accomplished our mission and hill 1760 was ours.

During this time, our force continued attempts to retake the road and move the convoy to a safe place. However, due to the intense fire from “Nameless” mountain, we were unsuccessful. The approaches to the mountain were wide-open and a flanking attack did not appear possible. Despite our heavy small arms and BTR fire plus the repeated gun runs by helicopter gunships on the height, we were not able to take it.

Finally, our company commander’s radio requests resulted in an additional flight of helicopter gunships. The commander decided to attack the enemy with the 1st platoon, which had originally acted as the reconnaissance platoon. At 1240 hours, the 1st platoon attacked. It was supported by fire from the machine gun/grenade launcher platoon and a flight of helicopter gunships. It took the hill. The convoy could now resume its march.

Frunze Commentary

This vignette shows that is always necessary to “wargame” several variants for your sub-units in the event of an enemy attack. Further, sapper sub-units should always be a part of a convoy escort along with the motorized rifle force. And, again we see how good combat training of the troops leaders to success in battle, regardless of how difficult the situation is.

Editor’s Commentary

The companies in this vignette and the first vignette in the chapter (number 35) are from the same battalion. There is a year’s difference between the two incidents. It would seem reasonable to check for improvements made during this time. The force now moves with a reconnaissance force forward and with more responsive air cover. But, the commander still rides in the lead vehicle, bridges not checked for mines, and dismounted forces do not probe likely ambush sites. Broken-down convoy vehicles are still towed at the front of the column right behind the command vehicle. There is no apparent attempt to control dominant terrain or check it prior to the convoy’s advance. There is no discussion of using air assault forces to leapfrog from dominant height to the next to cover the convoy’s movement. Apparently, not all lessons on convoy escort have been learned.

This chapter started out by saying that the Mujahideen attacked convoys with mines during the early stage of the war, and as the war progressed, they began to conduct full-scale attacks on convoys. All these examples are from 1981 or 1982 – the early stages of the war and, yet, the Mujahideen seem well advanced in convoy attack by this point. In these vignettes, however, the Soviets are not taking steps that are standard in western armies. There seems to be no road-opening force on these routes. Evidently, there are no “bait-and-hunt” decoy convoys. Rapid reaction forces supporting the convoy escorts are not apparent. There is no evidence of any planning to use airmobile forces on likely guerrilla escape routes. Artillery fire support planning also seems to be absent. These examples fail to show map and terrain work to identify choke points, and likely kill zones and ambushes sites in advance. Reconnaissance forces seem road-bound. The effort appears passive and reactive.

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

Vignette 1 From Chapter 1: Ambushes

Ambushes at the Mamur Hotel

By Commander Mohammad Akbar

A day seldom passed without a clash between the Mujahideen and the Soviets or Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (DRA) in Logar Province. In the summer of 1980, my group set an ambush to attack a supply column of Soviet and DRA forces moving from Kabul to Gardez on Highway 157. At that time, the populace had not migrated from the area and it was full of people. The Mujahideen had contacts in the government who reported on the movements of columns along this highway. This was to be our first attack on a major column on this highway following the Soviet invasion. The ambush site was located around the Pul-e Qandahari junction with the main highway. At this point the Logar River comes within 200 meters of the highway to the east, and the Kuh-e Mohammad Agha hills rise some 700 meters over the highway to the west. Ten kilometers to the south, the road runs through a steep gorge where vehicles cannot easily turn back. We had 50 Mujahideen armed with Mosin-Nagant carbines, Enfield rifles and two RPG-7s. Our leader, Commander Hayat, divided our men into three groups and put one group in the Bini Sherafghan ruins some 70 meters west of the road. He put the second group to the east of the road around the Mamur Hotel and the third group to the east in Pul-e Qandahari facing the Mohammad Agha High School. Our ambush occupied a two-kilometer stretch. At this time, I was the late Commander Hayat’s deputy commander, commanding the Pul-e Qandahari positions.

Commander Hayat ordered that the attack would start when the end of the column reached the Bini Sherafghan ruins. The DRA column came. It had about 100 vehicles carrying food, ammunition and fuel. There were quite a few Petroleum, Oil and Lubricants (POL) tankers in the column. We let it pass and, as the end of the column reached the ruins, we started to attack at the end of the column. In those days, convoy escort was very weak and air support was insufficient. There was practically no resistance or reaction to our attack from the column. Even the Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs) which were escorting the column were passive. We left our positions and started moving up the column, firing as we went, and damaged or destroyed almost all the vehicles. We had no casualties. I don’t know how many DRA casualties there were, but we wounded many drivers who the government evacuated later. We left the area promptly after the ambush.

The area around the Mamur Hotel was ideal for an ambush and we, and other Mujahideen groups, used it often. In September 1981, we set an ambush at the Mamur Hotel and in Pul-e Qandahari facing the high school. The Mamur Hotel group was commanded by the noted Islamic Party of Gulbuddin Hikmatyar (HIH) commander Doctor Abdul Wali Khayat and the Pul-e Qandahari position was commanded by my commander, the late Commander Hayat. There were some 35 Mujahideen armed with Ak-47 rifles and three RPG-7s. The ambush site occupied about one kilometer of roadway. When the column arrived, we destroyed twelve trucks and captured three intact. The three trucks were large, heavy-duty, weight- cylinder trucks and they were loaded with beans, rice and military boots. We needed all this gear. We also captured two 76mm field guns and a heavier gun that I don’t know the type or caliber. We did not have any Mujahideen casualties.

In July 1982, the late Doctor Wali Khayat set an ambush near the Mamur Hotel. A soviet column, moving supplies from Kabul to Gardez, entered the ambush kill zone. During the attack, one Mujahideen fired an RPG-7 at an escorting armored personnel carrier (APC). An officer jumped out of the damaged APC and took cover. The officer was wounded. While the fighting was going on, the column sped up and left the ambush area - and left the officer behind. Doctor Abdul Wali Khayat fired at the position where the Soviet officer was. The officer returned fire with his AK-74. Doctor Khayat fired again and wounded the Soviet officer a second time - this time in the hand. The Soviet officer dropped his AK-74 and took out his pistol. Doctor Khayat threw a hand grenade at the officer and killed him. Then he crossed the road and took his AK-74 and his Makarov pistol. He left body where it lay and the Mujahideen left the ambush site.

The next day the Soviets returned in a column from Kabul. They cordoned off the area and searched the houses around Mohammad Agha District headquarters and the town of Kotubkhel. They went house to house looking for their missing officer. HIH commander Sameh Jan was in Kotubkhel at that time. He coordinated and organized all the Mujahideen factions that were caught in the cordon. There were about 150 Mujahideen factions that were caught in the cordon. The Mujahideen began attacking the searching Soviets. They launched sudden, surprise attacks in the close streets and alleys of the villages and in the spaces between the villages. The fighting began in the morning and continued until late afternoon. Soviet casualties are unknown but we think they were heavy. The Mujahideen captured four AK-74s. Mujahideen casualties were seven killed in action (KIA) including Sameh Jan. Most of the dead Mujahideen had run out of ammunition. The Soviets captured the weapons of the dead Mujahideen including some AK-74s, a Goryunov machine gun, and RPG-7 and a few AK-74s captured from the Soviets in the past. As daylight waned, the Soviets disengaged, took their dead and withdrew back to Kabul. They did find and evacuate the body of their officer who Doctor Khayat killed the day before. It was still lying where he was killed.

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