COP Shangri-La, Zhari District, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan:
Ennio Morricone provides the background music to this update. The spaghetti western feel of this place is surreal. Scenic landscapes over the antiquated population, facing the oppression of vile and murderous bandits define the situation. Feels like Clint should come riding over the horizon, cigar in his teeth, Schofield revolver in each hand, poncho draped over his shoulder, ready to lay out Taliban like TA-50. Oh, and surprise sandstorms that pick up your recently completed shower shack and rudely inform you that this month, you shall not rinse. Baby wipes are key.
Also discovered that Afghani is the currency, Afghan are the people. And a type of rug. And a breed of dog. Important distinction when using an interpreter.
The bad guys are still feeling us new guys out. They watch us, assessing our strength and searching for our weakness. They have been caught setting up illegal checkpoints where they toll passing motorists and pedestrians. The ANA generally deals with these issues, but for the most part they escape before we can get there. They try to intimidate the people, and fit the word terrorist to the letter. Reports have come in of them mutilating locals who come in for work programs. They cut off the ears or thumbs and threaten worse if they return. Fear is their tool, and they try to erode faith in us. I’ve heard more than one local tell me that the Taliban has forced villagers to carry the Taliban dead to Kandahar and claim they were innocent civilians to disgrace us. Hang ’em high…
The Troop has started weekly shuras among the towns in the area. A shura is a meeting of local elders where they discuss issues presently facing the region. For example, I mentioned in the last update a local who stepped on an IED. This man happened to be the owner/operator of the only shop in town. A general store, it sold everything from motor oil to snacks. We learned recently that he died from his wounds after being treated by the doctors at KAF. Now the town has no one to run the store because the other denizens are either too young/old, or are presently employed as farmers. This presents a problem for surrounding villages as their general stores are now likely to see an increase in customers, and potential shortages of goods necessary for living. This is where the shura comes into play. It allows for communication between the villages that readies the other local stores to receive more customers. The shura is also where aid distribution and work programs are generated to build up the area. Leaders bring the needs of their towns and everyone does their best to see that these needs are met.
Some places need schools, some want a new mosque, and some of these requests are impossible to fill at this time. ISAF (International Security Assistance Force, read: good guys) has built schools in the past, only to find them either destroyed or occupied by the Taliban. I asked a young boy a few days ago what his town needs and he would not quit talking about wanting his school back. The thirst for education is a very good thing in my eyes, but it cannot be quenched until we have dispatched the banditos. If we can give them a good enough licking during the fighting season, perhaps these kids can be in school for the spring semester next year.
Also, the kids love pens. It is inexplicable. When I show up into town and start interacting with the older people, a gaggle of young ones will materialize from the mud buildings and hover around. They are not so rude as to interrupt adults in conversation, but I see them staring. If I have to write something down, and pull a pen from my handy dandy left sleeve pen holder, their faces flash with excitement. I might get the same reaction in the US from an Xbox. I generally don’t finish patrols with any writing utensils left. Perhaps along with all the bullets and grenades and maps and pouches and radios I need to start bringing office supplies.
As full of praise as I have been about the locals, they do things at times that really chaps my loins. For example, some have tried to take advantage of the reconstruction. When we have to destroy someone’s property, we pay them for it through a claims process. However, if you were to judge the state of the region by the claims list, you’d think that on this ground once stood more ten bedroom houses than RIver Oaks and more grape fields than Napa. It gets on my nerves because they look me in the eye and think I’m too dumb to get it. Thankfully, the officer in charge of the awards process is a well organized, savvy individual who cuts through the crap and makes sure the right people get paid.
A question was asked by one of my readers about the grape industry here. As I’ve mentioned, the three major crops of the region are reefer, opium, and grapes. The reefer and opium have been planted and are sprouting up well. Soon, there will be fields of weed eight feet tall and everything will smell like a college dorm room or a Jimmy Buffet concert. The opium takes a bit longer and while it doesn’t grow as high, it does grow thick. They harvest it by cutting lines in the bulb and letting the sap come out. They come back later and collect the sap, which they dry out into a powder and package. The grape fields are currently being tended to but I do not believe the vines have begun their seasonal growth. When the time is right, the farmer will harvest the grapes and bring them to large grape huts. A grape hut on average is fifteen feet tall, fifty feet in length, and twenty feet in width. These sizes vary dramatically. They have adobe walls three feet thick and holes dug on the inside of them. The grapes are strung up on poles which span the width of the hut where they are dried into raisins. I imagine there is also a market for the fresh grapes, but not a big one given the lack of refrigeration in the area. My platoon sergeant and I had the same idea of starting a Zhari Vinyards winery. Being Muslims, the local market would be small, but I’ll bet if the wine was half decent I could sell it to yuppie New Yorkers at a couple hundred a bottle.
Last September I sold my Jeep. This jeep had a winch on it that proved useful in recovery on several occasions. In a few pictures below, you will see an ANA truck that attempted to cross a river and became flooded. My soldiers performed their vehicle recovery drill very well, and winched that sucker out quickly. It was incredibly comical to watch the ANA guys sitting in the back of the truck. At first they freaked out, but soon they were swimming and playing around. We’ll need to work on their focus…. My NCO’s got the cable hooked up and we cranked the truck to freedom. Good day.
In an event totally unrelated to the kinetic fight, a group of kids showed up at the gate the other day. One of their friends had burned himself severely on a stove cooking flatbread. The Troop’s medics had him treated and on a bird to KAF in minutes. He is doing well and will be getting proper treatment for the injury. Now, if he follows the instructions the docs give him, the kid won’t have to worry about life ending infections.
I made a bet with one of my sergeants. He was to make a list of ten stupid things that LTs do on patrol. If I did three of these things on the next patrol, then I would have to perform “The Rocket” for my soldiers. “The Rocket” is an Army football cheer that plagues graduates for the rest of their careers. I have been asked to do it for my soldiers but have refused on grounds of pride, until this point. However, by the completion of the patrol, I had done exactly three of the ten stupid things. So after the debrief and the after action, I went down to the tent and performed “The Rocket”, silly arm motions and all. Go Army, beat navy.
Staying ten and a half hours ahead, HE heavy, and until next time faithful readers,
1LT Wm Treadway