Home > War Journalism > Kandahar’s Most Wanted

Kandahar’s Most Wanted

By Joseph Kassabian

Note: All people, places, times, route names have been changed to protect operational security and the soldiers involved from any and all liability. All facts contained in this article are true.

Kandahar, Afghanistan. Only a month into deployment, the soldiers of second squad ‘The Hooligans’ are still fresh faced and nervous. Still learning the ropes of living and working in a war zone, guided by the heavy hand of their veteran team leaders and the screaming voice of their squad leader ‘Two’. Coming back in from another nine hour foot patrol through the mountainous, unpopulated landscape, they dropped their sweaty, dusty gear into the floor of their tents, soaking in the air conditioning while it still ran and the generators belched black smoke into the air, giving them electricity. The team leaders retreated into the Tactical Operations Center (TOC) to finish the patrols paperwork. The Hooligans were about to learn their day was far from over.

Captain ‘Radio’, the officer in charge of second squad’s area of operation (AO) appeared at the outpost and wanted to go out on patrol, more specifically he wanted to meet the areas Afghan Police commander LT. Azizullah, a person who the soldiers absolutely hated. Azizullah was corrupt, arrogant, and totally hated not getting his way. Our platoon commander ‘Six’ and Azizullah hated each other bitterly, Six refused to give him anything unless the police from his station would go on patrol, but Azizullah would not go on patrol unless we gave him things first, neither would budge. The idea was bringing our AO’s commander to meet him, fully knowing Azizullah would lie to him to make our platoon look bad, hung heavy in their minds. Nonetheless they got their gear back on anyway and marched out of the gate towards the police substation.

Once they got to the small substation Azizullah and Radio went into the Afghan commander’s office. After about thirty minutes Radio emerged from the police commander’s office with a grin on his well fed face. The soldiers of second squad were not going to be going to sleep like they hoped.

Radio was smiling because he had received intelligence saying the fifth most wanted man in all of Regional Command South (RC South) was in the area, and lived about ten houses down from our outpost. The night went from being simple, to an AO wide operation. Second squad, who was already walking around the area was to advance around the wanted man’s house and block off all roads and people coming in and out of the area, while first squad was going to pick up Radio, bring him to the vicinity of the target house and use their armored trucks for extra fire power and security. Radio was calling in his own soldiers from an outpost about ten minutes away to assault the target house. This is about the time when things stopped going smoothly.

Second squad advanced into position according to plan, Two radioed ‘One’ the first squad’s leader, to tell them we were ready for the raid to begin. One radioed back saying they were ready. Radio apparently got his own plan wrong, as the assault element of the raid was suppose to move in, undetected, so the target didn’t get spooked and run. For reasons unknown at the time, Radio ordered One to move in with the trucks. These are not regular trucks; these are ten foot tall, turbo charged, thirty ton, armored trucks. They are as stealthy as a big rig; therefore the target immediately knew what was going on. The trucks pulled up in front of the target house, around this time One noticed how bad of an idea this was, as no assault element was set up yet, and told his convoy to back up. The surprise was already blown, and now Captain Radio was screaming about One backing his trucks up without his permission. One backed them up anyway.

About a half mile from the target house Two and myself saw a white Toyota Corolla pull up to the door and start honking it’s horn. The car was signaling to the people inside of the building, Two, Alpha, Bravo, myself, and Delta immediately ordered our teams to assault the house, lest the target get in the car and escape from us. My team, ‘Charlie’ started sprinting up the street, ‘Mac’, struggled along next to time, weighed down by the M240B machine gun he had in his arms. “That run sucked ass.” Mac remembers laughing, “Worst plan ever.”

Charlie team was the first to the compound door. Two ordered us in, so I opened the door unopposed, surprising a group of six men who were sitting in the middle of the compound drinking tea. Mac and I froze in our place, neither of us knew a single word of Pashto this early in deployment, so we simply ran forward with our weapons raised. One of the men in the middle of the tea gathering stood up and tried to run towards a low door that went out to where the white Corolla was parked. At just the right time out interpreter ‘Ham’ came in behind us and screamed something in Pashto, the running man stopped in his tracks, and calmly sat back down with the rest of the men.

Captain Radio marched into the compound proudly with an entourage of other officers; Azizullah was at his heels with his own entourage of ANP. The rest of the soldiers fanned out, searching the rest of the compound, only to come up empty handed, Azizullah for some reason, sat down with the men and started having tea with them. Radio ignored Azizullah, and told us to start questioning the people in the compound, with my interpreter Ham I picked a guy at random and told him to come over to the wall where I was standing, an ANP came over with him for some reason. As Ham started asking the man questions the ANP kept trying to waving the man away, back to Azizullah’s tea party in the middle of the compound. Finally Ham got rid of the ANP, though Azizullah kept tabs on the conversation from afar, while enjoying his tea, with who we thought were Taliban.

After talking with the man for about twenty minutes I got tired of the lies he was feeding me, I simply asked with a smile on my face if he was ‘Mohammed Atta’ the wanted person we were looking for. With a equally big smile on his face, he said he was in fact the person we were looking for. So I asked him if he was the same Mohammed Atta that worked for the Taliban and made bombs, he again smiled, and said he was. Obviously taken aback at his honesty, I told Radio about what he admitted too. Radio was as surprised as I was, that he freely admitted to a large group of US soldiers, who were obviously looking to arrest him, that yes, he was a bomb enabler for the Taliban.

Now the political ballet of working with the ANP began, Azizullah wanted the prisoners left in his care, Radio immediately said no. Leaving prisoners in ANP care meant one of two things: death or release, normally for a few hundred dollars you could buy your freedom from the ANP, no questions asked .Other times they would just shoot you. Either way no intelligence was gained from giving the prisoners to the ANP. Azizullah accepted defeat at keeping all of the prisoners, so he kindly told Radio we could have five of the prisoners, the sixth of course being the fifth most wanted man in Kandahar, the whole reason we launched the raid. After a further half hour of haggling, Radio finally called the trucks up to the compound door, and informed Azizullah that we would be taking all of the men with us, turned and walked off.

The trucks roared up the compounds main door, and the prisoners were loaded up quickly, and the trucks were out of the area as quick as they had come in. The soldiers marched out of the compound victorious, smiling and laughing on the way back to their outpost.

While not part of the main story, it is worth pointing out that LT Azizullah was killed during a raid five months later. Widely regarded as a corrupt, brutal, two faced criminal the former station commander tried stealing and lying from coalition forces, beat his own men into submission, and routinely broke the law. While the official story is that he was killed by a Taliban fighter during a raid on a possible weapons cache, everyone on the ground thinks he was gunned down by one of his own men when they saw the golden opportunity to do so. Further proving why the ANP is more of a hindrance to the peace process then a partner.

  1. Frazier
    November 29, 2011 at 1:29 am

    Dude…..These are Awesome Stories.

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