OPERATION ENDURING BOREDOM - EPISODE XII
Silent Hassan: Afghanistan's International Man of Mystery
Photo by Buck Sargent
AMERICAN CITIZEN SOLDIER *EXTRA*
This is the continuation of a series of selected excerpts from my Afghanistan war journal hand-recorded from October 2003 to August 2004. All OEB entries are previously unpublished.
We do not differentiate between those dressed in military uniforms and civilians.
-Osama bin Laden
Dare to navigate through the Army mine fields of Acronym Alley with a rare behind-the-scenes glimpse of some real-world military mission planning and execution:
2nd Platoon OPORD (Operations Order)
Company Mission: C company, TF (Task Force) 1-501st disrupts ACM (anti-coalition militia, aka Taliban/al-Qaeda) in OBJ (objective) Chestnut commencing 09MAR04, IOT (in order to) deny enemy safe haven and freedom of maneuver.
Purpose: The purpose of this operation is to demonstrate a presence throughout OBJ Chestnut, forcing the enemy to reposition his force locations. Our goal is to develop HUMINT (human intelligence) contacts that will provide timely intel on ACM in the area.
Key Tasks: Mounted reconnaissance, village assessment, cordon and search, VCPs (vehicle checkpoints), identify UXO (unexploded ordnance) for destruction by EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal), destroy/capture ACM forces/supporters, develop contacts within target villages.
Desired End State: ACM sanctuary and freedom of maneuver are denied. We maintain the ability to find, fix, and finish enemy forces in OBJ Chestnut.
Enemy Forces: ACM have begun their Spring Offensive and have increased overall activity in AO (area of operations) Geronimo. During the next few months, ACM will continue to increasingly conduct ops against ITGA (international government agencies) and possibly U.S. forces in Khost province. These attacks will attempt to show the local population that Taliban/AQ forces are still prevalent in Afghanistan, IOT decrease popular support of the coming local elections. These elections, to be held in June, will have major impacts toward the future stability of Afghanistan. The Taliban must destabilize this election process IOT maintain a foothold on their influence and sanctuary in the country.
Key Personalities: ACM forces affecting the Khost region are commanded by Jallaludin Haqqani. His main subcommander is Malem Jan, who during the time of the Taliban was Chief of the Secret Police in Khost. He is notorious for his involvement in over 300 disappearances in Khost as well as his noted affinity for young Pashtun boys. He works closely with a man named Darim Sedgai, who has explosives expertise. These two ACM leaders or personnel associated with them drive around in a black Toyota Landcruiser with license plate # 1129 and a red Toyota Hilux with license # 3195.
Another Haqqani subcommander is his son Siraj Haqqani, known to stay in Bangidar, Pakistan during attacks that he has launched. Bangidar is approximately 4-5 km east of BCP* 3 (border checkpoint). Satimi Jan, of tribe and village Sori Khel, was arrested six months ago but Afghan police released him for a reported large sum bribe from the elder Haqqani. Owns a white Toyota Corolla station wagon with red interior given to him by Haqqani. Responsible for transporting IEDs from Pakistan, emplacing them in Khost province, and attacking Jingle trucks that transport U.S. supplies between Gardez and Khost cities.
*Mountainous outposts that divide key traffic routes between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
His brother Haji Alam Jan was recently detained and released by TF 1-501. Haji Alam Jan said Satimi lives near Peshawar, Pakistan. Satimi is approximately 5’7”, heavy set with black hair and long black beard, and is a heavy smoker. We conducted a hard search of his village on 15JAN04 and detained his brother and two other villagers. They were all released on 20JAN04. In his compound was a book that identified about 140 ACM operatives by rank and unit.
In a 10JAN04 report a contact stated that Satimi was planting IEDs and planning with others to emplace IEDs against U.S. forces and/or AMF (Afghan Militia Forces). Participated in the stopping of transport trucks headed for FOB (Forward Operating Base) Salerno. Also stated that Satimi planned the 20DEC03 IED that killed two AMF personnel.
Haji Malem Khan: Main operational cell leader of attacks in the Haqqani area of influence along the Khost-Gardez road. He has been detained in Pakistan, but a contact informs us that he has been released on the sum of 1.3 million Pakistani rupees.
Kalam Gul: We received info on this individual from a new but reliable source. Our CA (Civil Affairs) officer met with him during a visit to the Gardez Selay markets. He claimed to be an OGA* (other government agencies) informant and gave us intel on Satimi and Kalam Gul, matching info that ODA** (Special Forces) sources at CAF (Chapman Air Field) have given. The source escorted our CA team to the homes of both Satimi and Kalam Gul. Source overheard Kalam Gul’s brother say that Gul has likely gone to stay with relatives in Khost and would likely stay there now that we know where he lives.
*Spookspeak for "CIA"
**Operational Detachment Alpha, military jargon for an SF (Special Forces) team
Okay, so that’s the official Army hooah-hooah high-speed Ranger version of what we do around here. Now allow me to provide the boots-on-the-ground low-speed Joe Snuffy reality of how things actually go on missions such as this one:
Tuesday morning we woke up at the ass crack of dawn for the aforementioned three-day mission to the high mountains of the Pakistan border region far to the southeast. The convoy was enormous, approximately 35 vehicles strong (so long, in fact, the lead Humvees were practically outside of Khost before the trail vehicle had even left the gate. Bin Laden could probably have spotted the giant dust cloud through binos from his mountain retreat).
The chow tents opened up several hours early just for us, so that we could get some food (or so-called food) in our bellies before we left. I’m sure the cooks love waking up early for us. It really shows in the quality of these pre-mission breakfasts.
IHORE (International House of Runny Eggs).
Wouldn’t you know, I became violently ill about two hours into our ascent to 8000 feet, puking myself dry up on a hilltop while on a brief security halt. My stomach churning like Mount St. Helens, the sudden gastrointestinal upheavals left me so dehydrated I could barely stand on two feet. Doc Edmundson, our platoon medic, got me down to our Humvee and began to prep my left arm for a routine IV, yet I was already so incoherent I nearly tumbled right off the side of the truck from the sitting position. (All this I was told later; my own recollection is still a bit hazy).
I soon was laid out and stretchered into the back of the trailing FLA (medical vehicle) so that the convoy could continue on. There I spent the rest of the journey effectively comatose until I was rudely awakened by the decidedly unwelcome sensation of the PA (physician’s assistant) shoving something cold and hard “in through the out door.” (Our PA is notorious throughout the ranks of the 501st for this anal diagnosing fetish that apparently knows no bounds. Tales abound of soldiers having been disconcertingly “probed” for everything from sore throats to sprained ankles). Rather than allow him time to dream up other unnatural methods of taking my core temperature (or more things to shove up my rear besides thermometers), I quickly came to my senses and decided I felt much better, thank you. At some point I recall him asking me if I’d ever had kidney stones. Can I go now, please?
Eager to rejoin my squad at the front lines rather than hang with the First Sergeant and his merry band of bitch boys in the rear with the gear, I soon hopped the first Humvee back to their position overwatching a valley for enemy traffic. Apparently, while I was zonked out in the back of the FLA our convoy had done nothing but drive all day, eventually ascending to a near nosebleed altitude.
3rd Squad (with an attached gun team) spent the night in an observation position on a remote mountaintop, utilizing thermal scopes and alternating sleep shifts in a routine guard rotation. Few things are more miserable than standing watch over a featureless moonscape while wearing NODs (night vision goggles), freezing your testicles off, and struggling desperately to stay awake and remain alert. However, one such thing that qualified was barfing uncontrollably while on my hands and knees for the second time that day, dry heaving until my abs hurt. Apparently, the PA’s brilliant diagnosis of “dehydrated exhaustion” wasn’t quite so proctologically astute. Something was seriously amiss in the depths of my bowels, and it wasn’t about to go quietly. I still don’t know what it was -- food poisoning, stomach virus, the biohazardous state of the putrid Afghan air -- but I mercifully slept like a stone for the rest of the night, even through another by-now requisite enemy rocket attack from an adjacent hilltop.
We ascended even higher to just over 9000 feet, which doesn’t seem all that remarkable until you attempt to walk up even a tiny hill and find yourself panting like you’ve just climbed Everest. The air is thankfully cleaner, yet noticeably thinner.
Most of the day was again spent riding up the narrow mountain switchbacks, the majority of us severely fatigued from the deathgrip required to stay balanced on the rear of the Humvees as we catapulted across the steep, uneven terrain. This activity was broken up by the occasional “presence patrol,” humping it on foot along the woodsy, snow-covered hills looking for God-knows-what. The only other living things up here are the ubiquitous pine trees (making it look much more like our Alaskan home than the Middle East), and the random Afghan shepherd guiding his herd. (It’s now become apparent to us that nothing deters these guys). The op order for this mission called for “village assessments,” yet we haven’t even seen more than two people the whole time we’ve been up here. As the Senator from New York might say, “It takes a village…to do a village assessment.”
Someone high up the chain of command brilliantly decided that we need to start “digging in” at night on these missions to guard against enemy indirect fire on rocket attack while we sleep. Never mind that in the four months we’ve been here already we’ve never bothered to do this before. If there is anything an infantry soldier dislikes more than digging foxholes (aka fighting positions or Ranger graves) with an 18” collapsible E-tool, I couldn’t at the moment tell you what it is. (But given more time, I’m sure I could come up with something).
But once darkness fell and our holes were dug, the PL sent our squad on a wild goat chase…er, I mean, mission… to check out a known nearby cave for possible enemy personnel seeking refuge. We were also directed to take “Crazy Ivan” (our green plastic silhouette target mascot that we’d bungee’d to the grill of our Humvee) and start a huge bonfire next to him in a lame attempt to invite contact and thus affix and pound potential ACM positions with indirect mortar fire.
No dice. No one fell for it. Crazy Ivan enjoyed a warm campfire all to himself that night, while the rest of us shivered in our Ranger graves.
The third day of a three-day mission is always the best one, because everyone is anxious to get back to the FOB. Nothing like a few days in the field to make us appreciate the creature comforts (i.e., only comfortable for a creature) of tent city Salerno.
This marks the first day I’ve actually been able to keep any solid food down other than my patented “PB&J IVs” (peanut butter & jelly packets squeezed directly into my mouth in one straight shot). Our long convoy descended the Haji Alps and rather than head back to camp like we’re scheduled to, the decision was made to finally find some villages to “assess.” We were all thrilled, of course. You know mission cycle is getting old when you’re anxious to go back on FOB security again.
One village near the border had an interesting twist: nearly all the males of fighting age (which in Afghanistan pretty much translates to “has learned to walk”) are over in Pakistan warring with another village that disputes their claim to their land. Personally, I thought we should go assist them with their tribal feud for the remainder of the day. I figured for them it would be like getting into a scrap with schoolyard bullies and having Stone Cold Steve Austin suddenly arrive to bail you out. If nothing else, it would have been good for some quality entertainment. But that’s probably as good a reason as any for not putting me in charge of anything.
Our route home was, as usual, yet another miserable dust-swallowing and tailbone-bruising ride from hell. Of course, someone had to go and mention the dreaded “R” word (“Hey, well at least it isn’t raining”), which was just enough misguided optimism to drive the Rain Gods to distraction. Idiot!
The little haji kids’ new favorite pastime -- when they’re not preoccupied with pestering us for bottled water, spare pens, or “biscuits” (cookies) -- is to frantically blurt out “Osama! Osama!” at passing American convoys and then point to the houses directly behind them. This is incredibly exciting the first time you witness it, less so the fifth time in half a mile. (Yeah, ha ha, you filthy little bastards). Still, it wouldn’t surprise me if Bin Laden really was sitting with his feet propped up in the window of one of these roadside mud huts, sipping chai and laughing his ass off as we rumble on by, totally oblivious.
Each platoon usually travels with at least one terp or AMF soldier to assist us when we encounter locals during a patrol or mission. 3rd Squad’s token AMF guy this time around was an Afghan named Hassan who didn’t speak a word of English (or a word of anything the entire three days, come to think of it). Still, we came to adopt him as an honorary squad member of sorts, giving him socks and gloves for his bare extremities in the frigid conditions (AMF soldiers are not exactly what you’d call “well paid.”) Traveling with the AMF and the terps has an added benefit: it seems to give us more clout with the locals when they see us riding side by side with a familiar bearded face, and provides us an air of legitimacy among the populace that we as yet another group in a long line of foreign invaders would not otherwise have.
Hassan especially seemed to enjoy the attention and notice that we received as we wound through the busy thoroughfares in “downtown” Khost, literally stopping traffic as onlookers would drop whatever they were doing (usually not much) to wave, shout, salute, give the thumb’s up, or chase us down the block. People jammed ten deep into passing taxis would crane their necks to gawk at us as is we were a presidential motorcade. We could even see burqa-clad women (if we looked closely enough) sneak peeks at us from behind their blue head-to-toe ninja veils. (Though orange and yellow burqas now appear to be all the rage in Khost. Take that, fascist Taliban fashionistas!)
Throughout it all, Hassan was waving and thinly smiling like the King of Kabul, or a celebrity hitting the red carpet for his latest blockbuster release. Albeit a scruffy-bearded, AK-sporting, really badly smelling one. Shirey finally got into the act as well, acknowledging the crowd from the truck turret with a raised heavy metal two-fisted devil salute. “Rock on!”
The ride back to the FOB Sweet FOB ultimately caked me with so much dirt and dust that I looked like I’d camoed up before we left. If there’s one thing I will never take for granted again in this world, it is the rare beauty of pavement.
COPYRIGHT 2006 BUCK SARGENT