Home > War Journalism > The Weapons Cache And The Afghan Army

The Weapons Cache And The Afghan Army

By Joseph Kassabian.

Dand District, Kandahar, Afghanistan. On a dusty, sun beaten day the men of second squad, second platoon, 411th MP CO rolled into the Dand District Center, only a short drive from our base. Another one of many combined US-Afghan forces bases in Kandahar. The Afghan Army unit stationed at the center had received a phone call from a young man who claimed his father was a Taliban fighter, and had explosives buried at his home nearby. That’s how we ended up at the center, the son (we never learned his name) had showed up like he said he would to show us where the house was, second squad’s squad leader ‘Slim’ had walked to meet the Afghan Army and come up with a plan on how we were going to look for the weapons cache.

It makes us a little nervous working with the ANA (afghan national army) since we have never done it before. Being a Military Police company or job lays with the ANP (Afghan National Police) and trying to turn them into a working force. We don’t know any of the Afghans in this unit, and therefore have no relationship with the powers above them that are suppose to keep them under control.

“This is a fucking trap” grunts a soldier. We had all gotten out of our trucks and gathered around in a circle, smoking.

“A kid rats out his dad in Afghanistan?” Laughed another soldier, letting out a stream of smoke from his nose. “We take one step into that house it’s going to go up like Hiroshima”. All of our worries were pretty well founded, Afghanistan is such a traditional country that most families live under one roof for generations, when a person’s father dies off, they take up his name. So the thought of a teenager selling out his father to the Americans seemed like a long shot. After about thirty minutes of milling about outside and chain smoking, our squad leader emerged from the meeting with the ANA leadership visibly pissed off.

“Mount up fellas.” He gave a sarcastic smile. “We are going to follow this faggot to his dad’s house; it’s probably a trap so keep your eyes open.” We all dispersed back to our trucks, I climbed into the back seat behind our trucks CROW controls, which is like a remote controlled machine gun, the weapons on top of the truck but I’m safely inside behind the armor. Our convoy rumbles back to life and our of the District Center, down one of the few paved roads in the area and into the city.

Things immediately went wrong. Slim notices the area the son is taking us isn’t our area, its another Military Police unit known as ‘Strike Fear’s’ area. The Afghan war is broken down into ‘Areas of Operation’ which are given to the various units deployed to the theatre, you’re not suppose to leave your area no matter what, and we were about to do it without any sort of authorization. Our company’s Tactical Operations Center (TOC) told us to keep going, so with a roar of a diesel engine Slim’s truck made a left into a area we had never been before. The road is so small our trucks gunner’s can’t see anything besides the walls of the buildings we were surrounded by.

“Fuck, I can’t see shit” I complained to my Team Leader.

“No one can” He laughed, he reached over and changed the song on the Ipod we were listening too.

The ANA pickup truck carrying the son stopped, we didn’t want to get to close, so we stopped a few feet back. Through my CROW screen I could see nothing but a brick wall, so my team leader got out of the truck and told me to come with him, “sense I wasn’t serving a purpose anyway” I pulled the M249 squad automatic weapon from the middle of the truck and hefted the weight onto my shoulder. We fell into a line formation that snaked down a narrow alley. Through the pitch darkness we could see nothing. The army does issue us night vision goggles, but since the mount for mine has been broken for the better part of three months and I have not gotten a replacement, so I walked blindly following the faint shape of my driver in front of me.

After about ten minutes of walking down the barren, empty streets, in between foul smelling open air sewer channels we came to a broken, cracked mud walled compound. Inside the son pointed out on the ground where he said his father buried the explosives. A few old, bearded, mismatched ANA soldiers walked back out to their trucks and came back with pickaxes and shovels, and surprisingly they started doing the digging. Seeing Afghan forces do any sort of work is always a pleasant surprise. During the time it took their chosen soldier to dig a small hole, the rest of us were talking and joking with the rest of the ANA soldiers, I was even showing some of them pictures on my camera from home. About an hour later the ANA soldier was covered in dirt and sweat, and had dug a small well. The old woman of the house came out and told us if we were looking for the explosives we were digging in the wrong place, see then waddled up to a place inside the house and made a ‘x’ in the dust. It was solid concrete.

So the ANA soldier walked back over and started chipping at the solid floor, after a few minutes his gave up and one of our soldiers took over. The big New Yorker slammed into the concrete like it was sand, sending chunks flying everywhere, within twenty minutes he had broken through the solid ground and into the dirt below. He switched the pickaxe out with another giant in our squad, the big country boy took over and dirt started flying. A few minutes later Slim found his prize.

Jumping into the hole that was about waist deep he started digging with his hands, out came several plastic bags that were covered in grease. He tore them open like a kid on Christmas morning, producing six grenades and a landmine. He all started high fiving and taking pictures, while Slim, the responsible one called our TOC to tell them what was going on. Meanwhile my team leader directed some soldiers back into the street to secure the surrounding houses so we could clear out the locals. While it probably wouldn’t happen, in the event the cache exploded we didn’t want innocents going up in flames with us. Our TOC told us to call Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) to come out to where we were and secure the explosives. Things immediately started going horribly.

My Driver and I walked to the nearest house to knock on the door to clear out the family; he gave the sheet metal door a few raps. The ANA outside started screaming at us to stop. We exchanged glances, he smiled and knocked again. This time the metallic clack of a rifle being charged came from the two ANA soldiers in front of us, my Driver and I raised our weapons at them, screaming for them to put them down. an ANA soldier on the roof over us pointed his rifle down at our heads. Slim was on the radio trying to tell the TOC what was going on, while simultaneously trying to get the ANA commander to call off his soldiers. While normally US versus Afghan soldiers would always go in our favor, there was only six of us, and about fifteen of them, but we were not going to back down. Our interpreter told us that the ANA commander was told to take the cache, but sense our orders were more pressing, we told them no. Inside the compound an ANA soldier pushed the big soldier from New York, he shoved the ANA to the ground and raised his weapon, my Driver and I ran into the compound and pointed our weapons at the rest of the ANA who were surrounding him. Slim put down the radio and came into the compound “If one of them points a weapon at you fucking kill him!” He screamed himself horse. The barrel of my SAW was in the face of an ANA soldier, screaming at him; he was screaming at me, his spit showered my face. He didn’t raise his weapon.  Thankfully  Slim’s radio crackled to life with the voice of SFC ‘Shotgun’ a platoon sergeant from another platoon saying he heard what was going on and he was on his way, we just had to hold down the fort for ten minutes, but at this point we didn’t know how long we could keep this up. Slim ran back and forth screaming at us to hold our ground, outnumbered and out gunned, my finger started slowly squeezing the trigger. After what seemed like a eternity Shotgun and his platoon ran down the street behind us, at the sight of more Americans the ANA stopped putting up a fight and walked away towards their commander. Shotgun, who worked closely with the ANA in Dand district, and a world renown hard ass, tore into the ANA commander on the ground. After twenty minutes of nail biting, near death, our TOC finally radioed us and said we could just give the cache to the ANA, and that EOD wasn’t coming. Slim, with a look on his face that would kill lesser people, simply put the radio to his mouth and said “Roger, we’re fucking leaving”. Giving the cache to the ANA, we got in our trucks and left.

After all the fire and brimstone about getting the ANA commander relieved, nothing ever happened over the incident. This sort of thing is wide spread in the Afghan War, sometimes Americans even get shot over disagreements with the ANA. Then when they need anything, they come running back begging for it, starting more arguments. With billions of dollars pumped into the Ministry of Defense, and getting nothing in return when do we say ‘enough! Take care of yourself?’ or do we keep letting our ‘allies’ put Americans lives in danger?

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