COP Shangri-La, Zhari District, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan:
The big one-zero, here we go.
Pakistan has really been chapping my nethers lately. First, their totally unreasonable reaction to our raid on the rat king. Look, I get it that they are a sovereign nation and our raid stepped on some toes, but the bald fact of the matter is that he was set up for half a decade in the same spot next to a military installation. Seriously, how naive are we expected to be? The tacit approval of sects in the Pakistani government, and active participation of the ISI (Pakistani Intelligence) in Taliban operations are well documented and well known. Let’s take for example the 82mm Recoilless Rifle that has been lurking around recently. Is it left over Soviet materiel or imported in a crate, stamped with “Made in China”, and has packing straw still attached? Most large scale devices like this require a good deal of maintenance, and thirty years of rust makes for a bad tube. No, this is a Type-65 Chinese knock off that the ISI bought and gave to my wily little Afghan friends. There needs to be a diplomatic reckoning with the guys. For real. Write your congressman.
A bit of info on the 82. A recoilless rifle is basically a large missile launcher. Developed near a century ago as an anti-materiel weapon, it has only seen sporadic use since conventional warfare lightened up. It is recoilless because being missile-esque, all the force is pushed out in the backblast rather than absorbed by the device. It would be a rifle if there were lands and grooves to spin the round as it travels down the barrel, but there are none. As the round would exit the muzzle, the rotational velocity makes the flight path more stable and thus more accurate, but instead it is smoothbore. A rifle that is not a rifle, talk about a misnomer. It can be fired on or off a tripod, and also converted to indirect fire mode and shot like a mortar. Unique tidbit: Soviet munitions are always just slightly bigger than U.S. ones. They figured in a pinch they could use our 81mm rounds in their 82mm tubes. Pretty smart for people who spend most of their times in lines waiting for beets.
The ANA found a volleyball net. They picked the one place in the COP to set it up where it would be the biggest pain. They sometimes leave it up, and if a vehicle needs to get through a guy has to dismount and move the damned thing. The catchphrase around here and in the headquarters is “shona ba shona” which means shoulder to shoulder. I suppose they have some romantic image of U.S. and ANA lined up Napoleonic style wading into the Taliban horde. Not so much. My shona, titled for the catchphrase though it makes no literal sense, is a Platoon Sergeant because they don’t have many officers. He has a good attitude and a massive gold tooth, which I presume is a mark of pride. The other Platoon Leader’s shona is an officer and looks a bit like Johnny Depp from Public Enemies. The ANA generally makes it’s NCOs based on literacy, and the officers come mostly appointed from well connected families.
The locals love to throw around their families. I’ve talked to many locals who have claimed relation to the ANA commander. They say, “No, you don’t have to search my house! I am cousins with Captain Pacino!” To which I respond by searching his house anyway. In this country, if you claim cousinhood with someone all it means is you share the same tribal association, regardless of the actual distance in lineage. And of course, it seems like every third guy is related to Hamed Karzai and if I search his house or step in his poppy he is going to tattle on me. I’m terrified, really.
Sometimes these guys annoy the hell out of me. It’s like the thing with Pakistan. There was a guy we stopped coming from a known Taliban area. I asked him if he had seen or heard of where the enemy might be. He told me there have never been any Taliban around, ever. That maybe in other villages but not this one. I am not this stupid. Additionally, whenever we need to block a road to support a clearance operation, the people coming through are always in some overwhelming hurry. Every other car or motorcycle claims they need to get to the hospital, even when no one is hurt or sick. Not to mention the innumerable other paths to get around our position. I am not this stupid.
The chaplain comes by from time to time. He gives services inside the leader’s tent. I don’t attend, but since I live there sometimes i overhear what is said. On one occasion the chaplain told some soldiers that God will help them find IEDs before they step on them, but if they do step on them it will be OK because God is with them. I read something very similar to this in reverse. In a speech given at a nearby village by a pro-Taliban mullah, he said that God will help you to plant IEDs, and if the Americans shoot you, then well, don’t worry because you got shot for God. Most impressive, really. Both the chaplain and the mullah must be pulling material from the All Faiths Insurgency/Counterinsurgency Church/Mosque Online (AFICCMO) because it sucks.
The guys have been doing alright, but the casualties have weighed heavily on them. There is a bond formed between men in life and death situations. It is tighter than a friendship, more of a brotherhood. So, when guys get chewed up by the enemy they are rightly very sad. The Troop’s KIA, SGT Aguilar, hurt greatly, but if anything has hardened our determination to cover our buddies and destroy the enemy. At our level, it is less about the mission and more about a face-off. A match of wits between humans trying to kill each other. To win, we maximize our survival and minimize the enemy’s. These are strong willed men, and through the pain of loss, behind the strife of bereavement, there is a portrait of resolve, painted in technicolor.
Staying nine and a half hours ahead, HE heavy, and until next time faithful readers,
1LT Wm Treadway