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A Stick in the Mud
By Michael Fumento
Today we were supposed to go out on a mechanized patrol of the area, including the riverbed. And then, I thought, we were to go into town to meet with officials. The patrols go out four days out of five to check for Taliban and possibly draw a fight (In fact, a patrol was ambushed recently where we went today), but there's just not the manpower here to get really aggressive with them.
The Afghan police were all neatly in uniform, seemed to have relatively new weaponry, were neither particularly old nor particularly young, and just gave the air of being more professional than the ones I saw along Highway One. When one barked out an order they piled into the back of a shiny green pickup truck, which looked fairly new.
By the time we realized we were going to get stuck in just a few more feet, well, we got stuck right there. We called upon another Humvee to try to pull us out with winch but nothing doing. All four wheels just got stuck deeper. The soldiers tried putting rocks under the wheels, but to no avail.
Poppy eradication is a very tough political issue. No other crop can begin to bring in the type of revenue these flowers do. The only other crop I saw that day was boring old leaf cabbage, although Zabul province is one of the richest agricultural areas of the country. If you're going to destroy a farmer's poppies without compensating him, you threaten to make him a Taliban sympathizer. But if there's no money for bullets, there's no money for such compensation.
Eventually a third Humvee from our patrol came along with a reinforced bumper made for pushing. So we did a push-me-pull-you. With one pulling from the front and the other pushing from the back, out we popped. We headed very carefully back to the FOB, with the Lt. often getting out to check for mud.
Two hours later we "headed into town" to see the district chief. Actually, his headquarters are about 100 meters from where I sleep. The town is fairly safe, apparently, but not so much that it isn't smarter for him to live in a building with us. It was interesting seeing how our guys do business with the locals. The first order of business was compensation for a man whose house we accidentally dropped a bomb on. Eight people were wounded, but none killed.
He was to receive about $4,000 and Lt. Stefan's main concern was that this was an old man who would be walking from town and $4,000 was a heck of an incentive for a mugging. The district chief agreed, but seemed more interested in money to support his operations. You can't really blame him, I guess. His police haven't been paid in apparently five months. "We can fight better if we are paid," he insisted while fingering his prayer beads. Makes a certain amount of sense. But he also said he believed the money, which would be coming not straight from Kabul but rather via the administrator in Qalat, would be arriving in 20 days or so. The Lt. promised he would ask "my boss," meaning the C Co. commander, to intercede and that past such efforts appear to have met with some success.
Apparently Military Intelligence was of the belief that a mortar round had recently flown over the camp and that the tube was in town somewhere, because Lt. Stefan asked the chief about that too. "Who can we pay to tell us?" he asked. But the boss man said he wanted to discuss that privately. Perhaps he didn't trust his own men. I don't know. The district chief also informed us without being asked that the townspeople liked us very much and that when American or Afghan soldiers disrupted their lives with raids "They blame on Taliban" for prompting them. Is it true, or did he say it to make us feel good? Who knows?
Today, or really tonight as it were, is the first time this trip I really felt homesick. I looked up at the mountain range that surrounds the FOB and it just made me feel all the more isolated. There's one world in here and another world, the one I know and love, past those peaks. I miss my wife and cat terribly, and if I had kids I'd miss them too. Still, I'll be home soon enough. Not so for the men.
There still seems to be some confusion over whether tours here have been extended from 12 to 15 months as they have in Iraq, but I was uploading a blog the other day and couldn't help but hear a heart-wrenching conversation between a GI and his wife. Clearly the extensions are going to hurt morale, and I must say that both in Iraq and here morale has been quite good where I've been stationed. Strange to think that when those Twin Towers fell in 2001 not a single one of us imagined we'd be here at any point in time, much less all these years later. And, dare I say it, all these years from now.
Michael Fumento has paid for this trip entirely out of pocket, including roundtrip airfare to Kuwait, war insurance, and virtually all his gear. Please support him via PayPal Donate or Amazon Honor System via the logos below.