SOME EVENTS |
October 25, 2006
Some events have transpired within the past 24 hours that I feel compelled to blog about. Yesterday evening an SF (Special Forces) guy comes into our building, all huffy-like, and explains to us that a local warlord has just been slain, and warns that we should be in a heightened-alert status and expect some sort of attack on our FOB. This local warlord's name is Amanullah Khan, or as we affectionately call him, AK. I didn't realize how far-reaching this man's influence was until today.
In our heightened-alert status, we prepare our humvees for quick-takeoff in case anything happens. I am selected to be in the QRF (quick reaction force) team that is to depart in those humvees should the need arise. Well, our team sits there in full-battle-rattle for a good two hours, simply waiting for the word. Then in walks the same SF guy, who proceeds to explain that it isn't just AK that was killed, but 31 other fighters as well. And that this was a clash between two local warlords' armies.
He goes on to tell us that we need to depart immediately to secure an airfield near our FOB for incoming medevac helicopters. Around 11pm we depart for the airfield to secure it. It's one of those totally black nights and the moon is nowhere in sight. I ponder this as I lay prone next to my humvee, seeing nothing in the blackness, wishing I had brought my night vision goggles. The birds come in, they pick up four casualties of the day's clashes, and take off. The mission goes without incident. As soon as we arrive back at our FOB, our commander informs us that we will be departing the next morning, at 0600, to pull security on the funeral proceedings of the slain men (funerals in Afghan culture happen immediately). "Expect to be waked up at 0500," he says. I check the clock on the wall, and it reads 0104. That gives me a little less than four hours of sleep. The next morning I am awakened by my Sergeant Major, telling me to prepare the vehicles.
We roll at 0600 towards Shindand proper. During the trip I ask my Lieutenant why we are getting involved in this clash between two local warlords. He replies simply, "It's the Taliban. Don't believe all of this shit about 'warlords'. It's the Taliban, fighting each other." I ponder this for a few minutes while we pass scores of people on foot, headed toward the funeral. We are still several miles away from where the funeral is to take place (just outside of Shindand, in the village where the battle occurred), yet we are seeing all of these people, and I mean a lot, lining both sides of the road, headed the same direction we are. "How is this the Taliban? It's Amanull..." I start to ask. "No man, trust me. It's the Taliban. The Taliban is all around us. They infiltrate the Afghani society, so any clash among people is a clash among the Taliban." I mull this over, trying to make sense of his words: "The Taliban is all around us." I keep repeating it to myself, until it hits me. I've heard this phrase before. "The Matrix is all around us." I start going over some lines from the popular movie, and they perfectly describe what the Taliban is. The Taliban is an organized group, yes, but they are within the society, in every single facet of it. Here is one of Morpheus' key lines from the movie, in which I have replaced the word "Matrix" with the word "Taliban":
"The Taliban is a system... That system is our enemy. But when you're inside, you look around, what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it."
We arrive at the funeral site to find dozens of ANA (Afghanistan National Army) soldiers around the perimeter of the area -- at least a two-mile area -- which they have secured. These are the soldiers that we are training here in Shindand. Immediately after taking up our fighting position we receive radio-traffic from the ANA indicating that fighters (from one side or the other, I have as yet not figured out which side is whose), are still attacking the village, on the western side. So we U.S. soldiers move our positions to that side of the village, after finding out that our "enemy" had either dispersed back into the population or had retreated. For the next four hours, we simply wait in the heat. I am eager to get done with this "security detail", I am dog tired and hungry. We start getting scattered reports over the radio from higher up that vehicles are speeding through various checkpoints, all around Herat province, heading directly toward where we are. We stare off into the bleak landscape for another hour. Then up walks one of our interpreters, telling us that the ANA has a member of the opposing side's warlord's clan on the cellphone. "The ANA wants me to tell you guys, that the warlord's army is on the phone telling us not to move any closer to the village (referring to the village which the other clan is from)."
All of this sound confusing? It was. All I knew is that two groups of armed villagers, from rival villages, were killing each other, and now we were right in the middle of it. The "terp" (interpreter) comes back minutes later, while I am scanning the horizon for any sign of the "enemy" with binoculars, to say that the "enemy" has 1,000 men waiting for us, just over in that village there (he points off toward the opposing village, which looks a good distance away). I put the binoculars to my face and point them toward where his finger is pointing. Sure enough, I see clusters of men with weapons, scattered throughout the village.
So what we have is an old-fashioned standoff. Immediately, vehicles start shifting to form a line, all facing toward that village. I can't help but think how stupid this is. It reminds me of so many Civil War movies that I've seen -- two lines, facing each other on a battlefield, each waiting for the other to strike first. Which is exactly what both of us do. We wait. And wait.
I start getting irritated, and ask my Lieutenant why we don't just go into the village and kill them all. They would be no match for us (even though we number maybe 100 men combined, we have superior firepower). He informs me that the U.S. in this country is pretty much a third party. That we are here to train the ANA, and that the ANA must make the decisions about what is to be done. We can only provide guidance. I again ponder why the hell we are even here, sitting in this heat, actually staring at the Taliban, yet not being able to do anything about it. Apparently, what the ANA "decided to do", was have a staring contest, because that's all we did, stare at each other through binoculars.
It's getting into the afternoon hours when my commander finally decides on a plan for us (American Soldiers). He tells us that he is going to leave half of us out here with the ANA, and half are going back to the FOB for a night's rest, only to come back out tomorrow morning (0600) to relieve the guys that stayed the night.
Luckily, I was not among those that had to stay out there. I came back to the FOB and started typing this blog post. It's now 1730, I am tired as hell, and I wish to simply get some sleep for tomorrow's festivities -- going back out to the "battlefield" to stare our enemy down.