Hit & Run

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January 1st, 2009  – Kabul, Afghanistan

Happy New Year!  It is midnight straight up here in the local year of 1387, and the other guys are out  –  I am all by myself, rocking some beats, manning the phones that rarely ring and securing Fort Infidel.

Many years from now, US troops will still be in Afghanistan but I will not.  Here are a few short unrelated experiences that you might appreciate.  The isolation is wearing me down, but I go on leave soon. Work can be quite lively, but mostly time just oozes by, and I usually feel like I have crash-landed into a giant landfill on the dark side of the moon.

Today was our one-day weekend, but we got a call early this morning for a roadside bomb up north, a second-hand report of four injured Afghans, can we send help?  We made a few calls and got them picked up within the hour.  I do not know what the security situation was, or who responded with what sort of vehicles, but I am sure it was a long hour for the Afghans.  The timing of it was a little strange – I was stretched out in a warm bed hoping to sleep in, while they were stretched out on a frozen road beside a burning vehicle, waiting for a follow-up attack.

If it had been here in Kabul, and in the unlikely event that somebody called us to respond, we would verify it was a secure area before responding.  We made a careless hasty response only once, when I was new here: a client with a vehicle accident and multiple injuries.  The injured had armed security guards, but it was not a defensible position – next to the river in a steep narrow valley, on the road to Pakistan.  That landscape was a beautiful sight, but so is lightning.  We threw them in back and got the hell out.   I knew that a dozen French troops were ambushed and killed near that spot last summer, so I called a meeting afterwards and told the boss I did not sign on for that sort of call, and I will go pack my bags if you think otherwise.

In a side note I cannot explain very well here, a British friend who has been in-country for awhile said to not ever drive down that road unless we phoned him first, so he can make some calls and obtain clearance.  From the Taliban.  Dude has tea with the Taliban, a story that I have heard and confirmed several times.  This often involves paying them (the enemy) large sacks cash, courtesy of foreign aid and tax dollars.   Then the community development, education and infrastructure projects for which the money was intended can go ahead, minus a payoff at every step of the way.  It is a strange place where government officials at every level work to diminish the progress of free improvements to their homeland.

Last month I spent a week in Jalalabad, the last stop before Pakistan.  Every evening I heard Predator drones overhead, flying east to monitor the fighting.  At daybreak I watched flights of Chinooks, Black Hawks and their Apache escorts return from a hard night’s work in the borderlands.  They came roaring across town low, fast and loud, with door-gunners hanging out the sides.   Leaving town, I sat on a concrete block at the edge of the military runway, sweating, smelling the jet fuel, and watching the occasional Predator quietly float in, propeller whirring, minus a Hellfire missile or two underwing.   From my perspective, most of the war and development funds seem to pay for logistics, bribes and renting tasteless mansions, so it was immensely satisfying watching my tax dollars properly put to work.

I know a guy named Cannie, a hard man of Australian SAS extract, who chose to return four days early from a scheduled one-month leave.  He went directly Kandahar, just to resume night patrols hunting the Taliban, (which puts it more politely than he does.)  Cannie gets itchy if he does not go hunting at least once each week.  I hope fifty thousand more troops like him come here from Iraq, to reverse some of the gains the Taliban have made.  They control most of the country again.

Dave the British security contractor is one of my EMT students.  He missed class recently to attend an after-incident counseling session.  He had been driving his team to the airport for a job, when a 10-year-old girl stepped out in front of him.  There are few sidewalks here and pedestrians do not use much caution.  Dave ran her over and killed her in front of about a hundred people.    The four guys in the car were heavily armed with automatic weapons and grenades, but had to keep right on driving, report it to the police later and then have their company pay $10,000 to the family.  If the men had stopped, they would have faced a road riot, shot their way out of there, continued to the airport, made a couple of phone calls and payoffs, and flown out of the country.  That is how it is done, and it applies to anyone with the right contacts to make it happen.  Hearing about the girl stepping into traffic, our driver Shafiq said only partially in jest, “The girls in Afghanistan, they don’t want to live here.”

Afghanistan cannot develop a chicken industry for a number of reasons, not even on a small scale.  There are few cows due to lack of grazing land and perpetual drought.  Despite the malnutrition, there are no pigs because somebody 1400 years ago said they were dirty animals.  Goats and sheep survive on a steady diet of garbage, but the meat is not cheap.  Afghans import 55,000 tons of chickens every year.  That is 30,000,000 chickens, (mostly just the cheap dark meat) or one chicken per capita.  One chicken per person per year, if evenly distributed, which of course it is not.

Last month I discovered that my fat Oklahoma redneck co-worker loves his Christmas music.  “Well, it’s the first of December, ain’t it?”   I had a month of Jingle Balls vibrating through the walls, not harmonizing with the mosque screeching across the street, so I surrendered the back office to him and holed up in my room upstairs for the duration.  My confinement tightened, which did not bring forth Christmas cheer.  Can’t a heathen get a break around here?  I occupied the 14th century, but felt stuck a New Jersey shopping mall at the same time.   Fortunately he got himself fired before the month was out.  Here is your pink slip, Hillbilly, go stuff it in your stocking.

Gun control is a divisive issue in the US, but what about here?  We have guns in the house, though I have not heard of any home invasions in Kabul.   I have had more hostile neighbors in the US.  Why is it ok to defend ourselves with guns here but not there?

All for now.  Going surfing later this month.

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