OPERATION ENDURING BOREDOM - EPISODE VI
This is the continuation of a series of selected excerpts from my Afghanistan war journal recorded from October 2003 to August 2004. All OEB entries are previously unpublished.
It is the duty of Muslims to prepare as much force as possible to terrorize the enemies of God.
-Osama bin Laden, 1998
FOB Salerno, Southeastern Afghanistan
Today’s mission consisted of a 70 km humvee patrol with 1st and 3rd Squads and a few Delta Co. up-armors for security. The open bed of the humvee we rode in had no seats or even side rails, thus, the six-hour-plus movement resembled the world’s longest bull riding session, our vehicle careening violently with every bump and crater and me with a one-handed death grip on the lone troop-strap harness ratcheted across the lowered tailgate. My ass, my knees, my lower back, my right arm (did I mention my ass?) all feel as though I had been run over by a humvee rather than a passenger in the back of one.
The sheer amount of dust covering our faces, clothing and weapons afterward eerily likened us to the New Yorkers caught in the whirlwind at Ground Zero. Even my dog tags, hidden under several layers of clothing and body armor, were coated with a fine layer of light brown grit. The "Khost bowl” we operate within should be renamed the Dustbowl.
The scenery was routine: camels; packs of donkeys humping huge loads; led by the usual lone Afghan ostensibly cursing at them in Pashto to “Stay left! Stay left!” Peasant farmers (attempting to grow God knows what -- rocks?); the requisite hordes of “home-schooled” haji children out in force to satisfy their daily “harass an American for bottled water” fix; as well as the ubiquitous Afghan adults who idle about doing not much of anything. Apparently, sitting around is their national pastime. I guess some could make the argument that ours isn’t all that productive either.
Whenever we dismount in the midst of a village or populated area, we are swarmed by all the little boys and girls while the men gaze from afar or stroll by nonchalantly, doing their best to feign indifference. Any woman over age twelve will always keep her distance, however, less from fear of us than fear of being caught staring in our direction by their watchful men. Still, it’s usually not difficult -- especially when wearing sunglasses -- to catch a glimpse of young scarf-clad Afghan girls peeking over the tops of walls or around cracked doors at us. Taliban or no Taliban, women here are to be neither seen nor heard publicly, and certainly not by a group of infidel American soldiers.
What if they built a shopping mall and no teenage girls came? Only in Afghanistan.
The only two incidents of note along the way were a 107mm rocket propped up in a field within range of the FOB that a passing villager alerted us to (the sappers blew it in place), and a magazine full of armor-piercing 7.62mm rounds that we caught a local tough in possession of. While the locals are allowed to own AK-47s as per our standing rules of engagement (this is Afghanistan, after all; not the People’s Republic of California), having AP rounds -- which serve no other purpose than to penetrate the chest plates in American flak vests -- are obviously a big no-no.
For some reason unbeknownst to us low men on the totem pole, we demurred from detaining him in favor of merely confiscating his deadly contraband. Perhaps our Fearless Leaders did not want to risk inciting the rather large crowd that had gathered to view the spectacle. Or maybe they believed him when he said he didn’t know they were prohibited, as are concealable pistols. I find this logic (illogic?) the strangest of all. Here, one is allowed fully automatic rifles but not handguns, while in our own country we are permitted handguns but not full auto rifles.
It is difficult to imagine a stranger place than this. On one hand they have a natural love affair with guns and violence (sounds familiar), yet at the same time they appear to have this creepy disinterest in the opposite sex. It’s as if the Log Cabin Republicans joined forces with the NRA. Nothing but dudes and guns across the board. (Wait a minute -- this is starting to sound vaguely familiar as well…)
Meet the new mission. Same as the old mission. Today we rolled back out to the village that we found the AP rounds in yesterday, yet inexplicably failed to take any action against. Another miserable humvee rodeo ride, another layer of bruising for my “fourth point of contact.” The hajis were smarter this time. We found nothing and detained no one. Mission accomplished, Sir! Tomorrow we’re going to track down Osama bin Laden and serve him with jury duty. The heroic work of Task Force 1-501 is never done.
“Amrika, howdy yoh! Howdy yoh! Wahtiyer! Wahtiyer! Rahdiyoh!"
As usual, the Afghan rugrats came out in full force to greet our twelve-vehicle convoy and harass us for party favors. The smallest ones are so cute even with their dirty bare feet and wild matted hair that it’s hard not to give in and toss them a sucker or two and a water bottle. Those who have done so immediately learn the hard way why we cannot: Scores of haji munchkins instantly converge on their newfound benefactors like their team just won the NBA Finals and they’re in dire need of a truck to overturn.
Being mobbed in a place as potentially volatile as Afghanistan is dangerous for us, which in turn makes it dangerous for them and is to be avoided at all costs. Sorry Haji, but you’ll just have to wait for the humanitarian UN do-gooders to return (assuming they ever will) if you want your Free Stuff For Being Backward and Poor prize. My advice? Don’t go holding your breath. You’ll turn bluer than the color of those silly little UN helmets.
This just in: The Army has located and captured Saddam Hussein somewhere in Iraq. A good day for the war effort and a great day for the future of the beleaguered Iraqi people. Maybe one day soon they will be able to rejoin the pantheon of free independent nations, and enjoy their long-deserved right to democratically elect such noble, honest statesmen as Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Teddy Kennedy, and Al Gore. Hey, forty-eight million Americans couldn't be wrong!
This also just in: Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D, NY) has announced that she is moving her official residency to none other than Baghdad and running for the now-vacant dictatorship…er…presidency of Iraq.
In a recent press release, Sen. Clinton had this to say:
“Many people don’t know this, but my parents were both closet Muslims, and had always raised me (in secret of course -- America was, and still is, a very bigoted and intolerant place) to respect and honor the Muslim faith as if it were our own.”
She continued: “In fact, I’ve always considered myself something of an honorary Muslim. Why, if you look inside my 800-square ft. walk-in closet you’ll see underneath the several token Jewish yarmulkes (I mean, let’s face it -- like the Yankees cap those were always just for show) a dark blue burqa that Bill used to like me to wear back in the seventies during one of his kinky “dress-up” phases. He told me once that it was the only reason we have Chelsea. Come to think of it, I seem to have misplaced it right around the time ‘That Woman’ caused all that Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy impeachment fuss. Hmmm... strange...”
The Christmas holiday season is nearly upon us, impossible to escape even in a Muslim land. Funny thing about serving overseas during the holidays--everyone and their dog suddenly decides that all soldiers must be poor unwanted orphans without families of their own and they proceed to deluge us with anonymous Christmas cards. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly appreciate the thought; but it tends to get a bit ridiculous (not to mention creepy):
Do you wonder why you are getting a Christmas card from people you don’t even know? It’s because you are very special to us--and we appreciate you! We know it’s difficult to be so far away from your home and family, in a strange land with a totally different culture… and yet the reason you are there is a noble one. You are a volunteer soldier, fighting for America’s freedom from terrorists. We understand that this is a sacrifice and a hardship for you… and that you will do what it takes to accomplish your mission. We are proud of you. May all life’s treasures be blessed upon you this Christmas.
I love you dearly,
Um… well gee... thanks, Larry. I, uh… love you too… I guess. But really, it’s no big thing. I mean, I was probably going to vacation over here anyway during the holidays, so it all works out.
Afghanistan -- it’s the new Aspen!
Here’s another favorite:
Hope Santa brings you all that you hope for--and then some!
Merry Christmas and God Bless,
Yeah, thanks a million, Cathy. But unless Santa arrives bearing bin Laden’s head on a candy cane and a one-way-ticket back to the States, I’m afraid I’m going to be a bit let down this year. But I do appreciate the optimism, however misplaced.
Allah bless you and yours,
COPYRIGHT 2005 BUCK SARGENT