COP Graveyard, Zhari District, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan:
Welcome back! After a brief interruption, we now return to Bullit already in progress…
It happened. Sort of. On the 7th when we moved down here permanently, my platoon took charge of the new COP. Still under construction, though I still have my own bosses who visit from time to time. For the present, COP Graveyard and its occupants are my responsibility, as is the welfare of the farmers in the nearby homes. My men and I run the castle, and though its walls are but dirt, its moat but a tank ditch, its towers but wood and sandbags, its keep a tent, it is still our castle. These valiant knights keep the enemies at bay by hurtling steel slugs from a quarter to a half-inch wide at twenty-seven hundred feet per second (varies) at the enemy attack positions. The grenadiers lob the 40mm high-explosive shells over the walls to rain death on the Talibs. The only thing I need now is a cauldron of piping hot oil at the front gate ready to pour on a would be assault force.
So, until the rest of Apache Troop graces us with their presence, COP Graveyard is the White Castle (ha). I fear though I lack some kingly qualities that may paint me a tyrant in the eyes of the locals. It makes for an interesting comparison with the Rudyard Kipling tale (and Sean Connery movie) from which this post derives its title, though I have serious doubts about being proclaimed a god or finding myself thrown from a rope bridge by angry natives.
I had a man come a few days ago looking to make claim to property we destroyed to build the COP. He presented me a piece of paper indicating the quantity of owned land affected. The figure was far larger than the amount we bulldozed and detonated. The man, let’s call him Jack, swore up and down that we leveled exactly this much land, that it was all his, and that he wanted payment. Did this man think me such a fool as to simply write him a check from the American taxpayer? Does he think that I am like ACORN and just dish out federal funds to anybody? Maybe he thought I wanted a kickback. This ruffled my sensibility. I called Jack a liar and a fraud. Jack took offense that we destroyed his land and won’t pay him for it. I said that I have no problem paying for the land he actually owns, but I do not appreciate being treated like an idiot. He was silent. I told him to return the next day with a more accurate and appropriate sum of land and he would get his claim. Jack did not return.
Were I actually a king, my honorific would likely not be William the Merciful. The platoon relentlessly pours ammunition on the Talibs. Ninety percent of our engagements are started by the enemy, and we punish them for such arrogance. During the push down here, we fired so many grenades that we stressed the supply of the entire squadron. They told me to conserve my ammo, but I believe in ceaseless thrashing on the people trying to kill my men and me. We don’t shoot civilians, but we stack Talibs like cordwood. Some of you may have heard the statistic from Vietnam about soldiers firing millions of rounds per enemy killed, but I assure you that is not the case. When they shoot at us, my men aim their weapons and deliver ire in an aggressive manner. The Talibs prefer to attack units that only sputter a response. My platoon sings. The goal is to make them think twice, but it sometimes causes more issues with locals’ property when the Talibs shoot from peoples homes. I apologize that armor piercing fifty caliber bullets punch through houses like your ticket when the conductor comes by your seat. I am clear, however, that we defend ourselves with the required force to prevent repeat. We still pay for the damage we cause. People like Jack can look at the bright side though. The perforation should bring more sunlight and circulation into those damp, dark compounds.
The last several interactions with locals have been poor. The subject has solely been about getting paid for supposedly destroyed lands, of which tales similar to Jack’s were told in similar epic proportions. I don’t know why I am so concerned about it. I am not paying them from my bank account. I have the full faith and credit (chuckle) of the United States with which to play. It seems that my disgust and refusal is more primal; I resent being cheated even if it isn’t my money. They seem completely helpless when they allow the Talibs to use homes as bunkers from which to fight and are offended when we return fire. So are they complicit in the attacks or fence-sitting cowards for allowing it without a fight? I suppose though after decades of being the anvil on which the hammer of war pounds, this entire population may be paralyzed by sheer trauma to culture, unsure yet about who will be in charge after the pullout. Such an assessment might be the nation-sized version of a child born to an abusive family and bounced like a pinball between foster homes with wildly differing child-rearing philosophies. Let me spoil the ending. In this version, Afghanistan won’t get the record deal after Dr. Dre watches it perform in rap battles against Yemen and Pakistan on 8 mile road.
We employ local contractors to do work outside of the COPs. These contracts generate jobs and put honest money into the economy and, overall, are a good thing. The terps are contracted, some construction is contracted, even the guys who clean the latrines are contracted. However, there can be tension involving these contracts. This is a bartering culture and they do not understand the binding nature of contracts like we westerners do. After a contract is signed, the locals tend to negotiate things from us, on an informal basis, that are not included in the written agreement. One group of workers asked for us to provide them water (not in the contract). Basic compassion led me to give them water (no biggie). If you give a mouse a cookie, then he is going to want cots and fuel too. These latter items, however, I did not feel compelled by my humanity to provide. Not that I could have anyway because the availability of both items were scarce. Seriously, not my problem.
The contractors have recently become a target of the Taliban. I think they have figured out that unarmed and unarmored sedans, filled with unarmed and unarmored civilians, are a much softer target than our convoys. To attack one of my trucks that either spits grenades with the ka-chunk of a typewriter, or plays the deep bass solo of the M2, is folly. The M2 .50 cal tends to sound a bit like the intro from Led Zeppelin’s Communication Breakdown. The Talibs who attack these civilians are like the old fashioned road agents from the territories that would ambush innocent travelers on the move. The frontier stagecoaches that were appropriately prickly got hit far less then oh, say, a soft-minded Oklahoma-bound Sooner meandering in a covered wagon with lackluster security as over-assessed as their modern day football team. Like the road agents, the Talibs find a good spot concealed from the view of our outposts and attack the civilians. If the contractors are lucky, they escape with their lives but lose their goods or vehicles. If they are unlucky, the end comes face down in a grape field staining the green grapes red.
I hear pretty abhorrent tales about how the Pashtun Taliban sympathizers treat their children as well. For instance, a few kilometers north of us sits another COP where an injured child was dropped off at the front gate by his father, who then left. The young man presented with a skull fracture and exposed brain matter. He was still conscious and able to speak to an interpreter, but was fading fast. The terp asked him what happened. The boy said that his father had ordered him to go out to the road, count American convoys and mark the times they came past. The boy refused, and his father took to beating the child in the head with a hammer. After the bludgeoning, the father put the kid on his motorcycle, drove him to the COP that he was gathering intelligence against and left him there. The kid died before the medevac bird touched down.
Before we moved down here there was an Xbox set up at COP Shangri-la. From time to time we would play Call of Duty, a first person shooter video game. In the artificial world of the video game, we would laugh and play at killing each other. Regardless of how many times you were shot or blown up, there was always a respawn. Most of the real weapon systems we use out here are represented in the game, though with poor effect. It’s the difference between actually hanging out with a swimsuit model, or just seeing her on the pages of sports illustrated. While observing a particularly intense match between the officers and NCOs, I had an epiphany. Video game war is the perfect war for three reasons. In virtual conflict, there are clearly defined unarguable success/failure criteria. You know when you’ve won. The objectives are not absurd or obscure thus making accomplishment of them feasible. Second, the end to the conflict is set at a timeline or on completion of the mentioned criteria. Regardless of where you stand or how hard you engaged in digital combat, when the time runs out or the objective is met the war ends. Last and most important your friends don’t actually die. I say friends because if I watched every Talib suddenly and spontaneously combust it would be a spectacular and lighthearted end to this conflict. I would not be heartbroken. But in the world of binary code combat, the bullets don’t skip out of the TV and smoke your melon. I’m never responsible or guilty for players on my team having to watch the killcam and hitting X to return to the fight. If war was to mimic these traits, the world would be better off as a whole. Now, I am not so naive as to think that global crises will at any time be solved by a couple of rounds of international Team Deathmatch between prime ministers and presidents, but as philosophical conjecture, I’ll entertain it.
Coordination on the COP construction is proving difficult. While my charge is to defend the COP, these engineers are building a home for my platoon and ultimately the troop. The squadron and the brigade and the engineers have three separate ideas about what specific things are to be made, where they are placed, and how. The grand plan that was set a month ago before the offensive is beginning to slip in terms of support. The engineers are needed elsewhere, there is no more wood, the scope of the project doesn’t include structures, etc. These excuses for being unable to complete the COP as was designed are very convenient for people who didn’t make the appropriate coordinations and will never see the result of their bumbling. Add to that the pressure on the squadron to keep on the offensive in order to maintain the push throughout our area of operations and keep the collective Taliban heads down. The next dangerous area must be fought for to allow another troop to secure and build. The illuminated focus on our efforts here will dim as The Graveyard becomes old news. Even so, we will defend a half completed castle and continue to meet mission success. Coordination between military units should not be this difficult.
Where this passage sits was once several paragraphs about how useless the ANA are. I re-read it again (redundantly, it seems) and it just ticked me off more, so it was deleted. Madlibs may be less frustrating:
“Today an ANA soldier _______. This was _______ because ________. They could possibly be the _________ army in the _______. This is an example of ________ and how it negatively effects _______. They may as well _______ with _______ for all the good it does. Perhaps trying _______ they would learn to _______, otherwise I have _______ about Afghanistan’s ability to _______ itself ________.”
If someone responds with a funny one, I’ll put it up in a post. Phrases as well as words can be put in the blanks.
A care package of awesome note deserves mention in the main body. A couple days after moving down here I received several large boxes from the Treece family. They were full of wholesale size boxes of chips and cereals. This sustained the platoon almost exclusively for near a week. Our resupply has since delivered us a style of instant meal meant to feed the entire platoon, but before we got that it was either the Treece rations or crack open another MRE. The Meals Ready to Eat, for those unfamiliar, are the standard army meal packages nutritionally capable of sustaining life but little else. A nod to the Treece family, yet another of many beers I owe to the good people back home. If you bump into me on leave, I will probably be slumped and slightly coherent on an inflated raft. Two ropes will tie me off, one lashed to a group of rafts containing a passel of beautiful women, another anchored to an inner tube containing the beer cooler. I promise to retain just enough grip on reality with which to dispense beers yet undrunk enough to pay my debts to you fine people. Should I break my promise, George will act as my proxy.
Staying nine and a half hours ahead, HE heavy, and until next time faithful readers,
1LT Wm Treadway