Rules of Entrapment

January 11, 2012 3 comments

By Joseph Kassabian

If a soldier fires on a speeding vehicle that is barreling towards their dismounted squad on a patrol and kills the person driving it, is that soldier a murderer? That question was asked to several soldiers today, they all answered with a resounding ‘no’. The speeding vehicle could be packed full of explosives, or just trying to run down soldiers, or just your everyday Afghan driver that somehow doesn’t see the ten or so soldiers walking around in front of them, either way it is showing threatening behavior and soldiers are supposed to be fully in their rights to defend themselves and their comrades with deadly force if needed. The soldiers were also asked that, if acting within the guidance of their rules of engagement (RoE) they shot at that same vehicle, and killed the driver, but nothing was found inside the car and he was just your run of the mill stupid Afghan driver, would the Army charge them with murder? They all answered ‘yes’. Do you see what’s wrong with this?

Everyday soldiers go on patrol, through crowded cities, rural mountains, and ramshackle villages on constant alert to everything around them. In most wars your enemy wears a uniform, in this war your enemy could be anyone and anything, that car could be packed full of explosives, that wheelbarrow could explode when you walk past it, that car speeding in and out of traffic? Behind the wheel is a suicide bomber hell bent on ramming that car of his into your armored truck, blowing him and you straight to paradise. How do we fight something like this? Easy, you keep vehicles a safe distance away, we use to just place giant red signs on our trucks that said ‘stay back fifty meters or you will be shot’ and it generally worked. Politicians somewhere decided that wasn’t very friendly, so we no longer have that sign, we are now also encouraged to interact with the population, meaning we no longer have a ‘bubble’. So when that lone man, behind the wheel of his rigged up bomb on wheels, or strapped up with explosives and a trigger in his hand, charges at you what do you do? Do you pull the trigger?

A soldier, two years ago, was charged and convicted with first degree murder in Kunar, Afghanistan after he shot a man dead on his base, which sounds like straight up cold blooded murder right? The man he shot was a local who tried to wrestle the soldiers loaded rifle out of his hands, and acting in self defense, the soldier shot him in the chest at point blank range. Now, is this soldier a murderer? The Army thought so; the soldier is now serving a life sentence, never to see his two little girls again. Is that murder or self defense? What was the Afghan’s intention once he gained control of the soldier’s rifle? These are all things that soldiers must think about before they pull that trigger.

Questions like ‘am I going to go to jail if I shoot’ should not have to race through a soldier’s mind when he’s staring down the sights of his rifle, aiming at something that very possibly could kill him and his entire squad. There’s a saying in the military, ‘I would rather be tried by twelve then carried by six’, this means I would rather face the murder charge then be the soldier too scared to pull the trigger, fuck up, and get themselves or someone else killed, when in reality you were in your full rights, as laid out by the Geneva Conventions and the Rules of Engagement, to engage and destroy that threat. The Geneva Conventions, which the U.S. is a signatory, protects soldiers engaging in armed conflict from the charge of murder, as long as the killing follows the ‘Law of Land Warfare’. Yes, I know there has been documented cases of soldiers of various countries engaging in unlawful murder during war time, the Haditha Massacre in Iraq and the recent case of the ‘Sergeant Gibbs Kill Team’ in Afghanistan , where common soldiers engaged in gruesome and brutal war crimes, come to mind, but does that mean every time a soldier kills a unarmed person they fully knew in their minds that the person they were shooting at was innocent? Of course not, and to think so is insulting to those in uniform.

Soldiers aren’t walking killing machines, no matter how much they would like to think so, they are morally conflicted, sometimes no more than teenagers, and surrounded by threats on a daily basis. The only reason they would pull the trigger is because they are trying to defend themselves or their comrades, and are promised protection by our government when they have to do so. So why are soldiers going to prison when they follow the rules of engagement to the letter? To save face? Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the face of our rebuilding efforts and prize of Afghanistan’s ‘free and fair elections’ we have fought so hard for, has gone on record saying the U.S. thinks of Afghan lives as ‘cheap’, and that they don’t care about collateral damage, so what better way to prove him wrong then to find a scapegoat? I’m not accusing the government of falsely throwing soldiers behind bars, but I am accusing them of not protecting the ones sworn to protect the very powers by which they rule. Every firefight is looked at under a microscope, every soldier interrogated like it’s the Nuremburg Trials, investigators looking for the smalls crack in the story that they can jump on. Why would a government deploy its soldiers into harm’s way, if they did not trust them to carry out their mission?

Imagine that someone is threatening your family, they may or may not be armed, but you believe down to your very bones that they will kill them unless you do something. Would you second guess yourself? What if you’re wrong? What if you’re right, but are too afraid of what will happen to you afterwards to lift a finger? If you act, and kill the aggressor, are you a murderer? Or are you a life saver?

How to Play Catch in Kandahar

January 4, 2012 Leave a comment

By Joseph Kassabian

Some names, locations, times, and dates have been changed for operational security and to protect those involved.

Kandahar, Afghanistan. On a cold, dusty night like any other, second squad was kicked out of the warmth of their beds to get their vehicles ready. Our platoon’s first squad had found a mortar round laying in a ditch, discovered while attempting to pet a puppy they saw, and just in case it was wired up to explode by the Taliban, second squad was called up to escort Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) to the scene to blow up the possible booby trap. We yawned, climbed inside out towering armored trucks and rolled out.

We picked up EOD from another base and started to make our way to one of our Afghan National Police (ANP) stations, where just down the road first squad found the mortar shell. We pulled our trucks off the side of the road, I was left in the gunner’s position of the third truck in the convoy. My Squad Leader ‘Two’ linked up our Platoon Sergeant ‘Seven’, and they brought the EOD soldiers to the scene, leaving the gunner’s keeping security over our vehicles.

Traffic zipped between our trucks, shop keepers carried on like there wasn’t a platoon sized element of Americans wandering around their village. The gunners settled down for a long boring wait, staring off into our sectors of fire, scanning random cars and people that drove and strolled by for anything unusual. After about a half hour EOD radioed “Fire in the hole!” A small thump of explosives was heard in the distance by the gunners at the trucks. A few minutes later things went totally to hell.

A motorcycle, carrying two passengers sped past the last truck in the convoy, the gunner in that truck remembers “I heard something bounce off the turret shield and fall into the back of the truck, but I thought it was just a rock, but those fuckers threw a grenade at my head” The grenade fell out of the back of the truck and exploded next to the back left tire, shredding the tire and peppering the doors and gunner’s shield with shrapnel. Two trucks away my vehicle shook with the force of the blast.

The gunner in the attacked truck screamed something incoherent over the radio; I couldn’t understand anything he said. “Someone threw something at my truck!” he screamed his voice full of anger, confusion, or panic, I’m not really sure which, “It exploded!” I immediately unbuckled my seat belt, grabbed my rifle and started opening my door, I figured he was hurt, which would have explained the screaming. “A grenade exploded outside my truck! I’m okay!” First squad’s medic rushed back to the damaged truck, he climbed in the truck and did a quick once over, finding no bleeding he left, leaving the confused, angry gunner scanning his sector for more threats. The rest of second squad mounted back up, EOD truck in tow, and we took off towards another camp, to make sure the gunner was okay.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is a serious threat to all soldiers in the modern war zone. TBI is normally inflicted via explosions and soldiers suffer from undiagnosed concussions, leading to serious long term health problems, and is a leading enabler of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the ‘Agent Orange’ of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. Once regarded as something as something soldiers had to just ‘walk off’ or that they just ‘got their bell rung’ now whenever soldiers are the victims of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), grenades, or other explosive attacks, the army keeps them under close observation from several hours up to a few days. During this time soldiers have to pass various mental and physical exams and are screened by mental health specialists. Not that this screening is always effective in rooting out TBI and getting soldiers treated, it’s often joked about by soldiers but it is better than the old method of diagnosing soldiers and telling them to ‘stop being a pussy’ and ‘man the fuck up’.

Once we arrived at the other camp, ‘Bravo’ and myself started working on the truck, changing out the shredded tires by using a fork lift as a jack, and covering up the shrapnel scars that ripped across the armored back door with several camouflage pattern band-aids we found. Eventually we found out we would have to leave our possibly brain damaged squad mate at the camp for further medical screening, so the rest of us got back in our trucks and drove back to our small dusty compound, counting our blessings that apparently the Taliban couldn’t throw for shit, and thanking the overinflated defense budget that gives us such effective armored trucks, we climbed back into our beds to finish up what we tried to start at the beginning of the night.

How an Afghan Police Commander Beat the U.S. Army

December 30, 2011 2 comments


By: Joseph Kassabian

Note: All people, Places, times, and route names have been changed to protect operational security and to protect the people in the story from any liability.

Kandahar, Afghanistan. There’s a little saying for operations in Afghanistan, that you have to work ‘by, with, or through’ the Afghan security forces, mainly the Police, and when you say that you almost always mean ‘though’. In one of my earlier articles I talked about a corrupt Afghan National Police (ANP) station commander named Azizullah. This has to do with how he single handedly got an Army Task Force to bend to his will in the name of ‘partnership’.

It was no secret that second platoon’s platoon leader ‘Six’ and Azizullah hated each other within days of meeting one another, but being a soldier Six drove on, and kept trying to work with the maddening ANP commander, though soon we all saw the working relationship was one sided, and we were seriously being used. To put a ‘Afghan face’ on patrolling we always go out patrol with ANP, but at the time the ANP we lived with fell under the command of a different sub district (like a township or county) , therefore were not allowed to patrol our area, we had to ask Azizullah for some of his men to come out with us since we patrolled the district he was in command of. If the ANP ever arrived, they would be so late going on mission was no longer possible, they would arrive high, or without gear they needed for patrolling, and Azizullah knew this. So being civilized people we tried to talk this out with him.

‘Six’, ‘Two’, ‘Alpha’, and myself all sat down in a meeting with the ANP commander, his Hitler-style comb over, baby face, constant shit eating grin, and nose burning body stench made all of us day dream about throwing a grenade into his office. We tried to work out a deal so his men would show up to work, and we could go on patrol like we needed too and were being commanded too from our higher ups. First Azizullah smiled a smile that looked like he tilled his land with his teeth, and insisted he needed fuel. Six said, like before, he would get fuel, he would just need to go on patrol with us first. Azizullah danced around this issue for a few more minutes until he saw there was no way even he could make it sound like he needed fuel for a walking patrol. He then insisted his men needed something like seventy five pairs of boots, a pretty tall order for a platoon in a remote part of the Kandahar country side. Six, still keeping his cool, said he would put the request in with our Task Force, he was even making notes on paper so he didn’t forget, Six hated this man, rightfully so he was a corrupt, cruel, obstacle in the way of us completing our mission on a daily basis, but Six still had a job to do. No matter what we did, we just couldn’t get Azizullah to budge on anything, and we left pissed off and empty handed.

At this point I should explain a little bit about Azizullah, a now declared ‘Martyr of Afghanistan’ complete with a huge colorful, decretive sign over the gate where he use to work and live, before he got shot in the back of the head by one of his own men. He was the Cousin of the Provincial Police Commander, giving him a command job with zero experience, and making him untouchable. The years of American commanders being able to can useless Afghan leaders is long past, now we end up having to deal with them until they eventually get killed, like Azizullah. Azizullah’s station was ran like a fiefdom rather than a police station. His men would go out and rob people, and arrest those who wanted to talk to people about it. He employed a ANP we called ‘Mongo’, easily the biggest Afghan I’ve ever seen, whose sole job it was to beat people with a metal rod, Mongo was used on locals and ANPs alike, anyone who got in the way of Azizullah’s unquestioned rule of his tiny kingdom. A few months before his death Azizullah even ordered his men to draw down weapons on a U.S. convoy who had captured a high valued target, creating a Mexican Stand-Off in the middle of Kandahar, the U.S. kept the target. A soldier in my unit later found a ‘trip wire’ IED an hour after Azizullah claimed to have cleared a road, the IED was powerful enough to have killed most of the members of his patrol.

This also brings me to how he bent an entire Task Force to his will. After about a month of Six telling him he had to work to get any favors from us, Azizullah threatening our lives on multiple occasions, and then none of his ANP ever showing up for work. Azizullah picked up his cell phone and called our ‘Land Owner’ Captain ‘Radio’ and complained to him. Apparently, the word of a corrupt ANP commander is more trustworthy then the word of a respected U.S. Army commissioned officer, because Radio cleaned house. Moving my entire patrol out of his area of control, switching it out with another, just so Azizullah could get his way, letting him effectively tell the U.S. military what to do.

This has been happening all over Afghanistan, in an attempt to legitimize the Afghan security apparatus ISAF has been letting ANP, ANA, ANCOP, and NDS run wild to show that they are operating on their own, even leaving them in charge of whole cities in a attempt to make the pull out date laid out by President Obama. This countries security forces are less in shape to handle the load of control then Iraq’s were, and less than a week after pulling out of that country it’s all falling apart already. The goal of a 2014 pullout is not just insane, it’s impossible, and unless we fix the Azizullah’s of Afghanistan, everything we have worked for will fall apart all over again.

EOD and the Sixteen Thousand Pound Layer Cake

December 21, 2011 Leave a comment

NOTE: All people, road names, and outpost names have been changes for operational security reasons and to protect those involved.

By Joseph Kassabian

Kandahar, Afghanistan. Our convoy rumbled down the dusty, broken afghan road like any other day, we pulled into a nearby FOB to pick up Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) personnel, everyone was pretty excited because when EOD goes out something, somewhere, gets blown up, and we get to watch it under the guise of providing ‘security’. The day started out weird enough as I was suppose to link up with the EOD soldiers and tell them where their truck would go in our convoy, but when I opened the door I was met with the confusing stares of soldiers from Slovakia, who knew about thirty words of English between them, though I noticed the large ‘EOD’ patches on their shoulders and assumed they were who we were looking for. I pointed where in our convoy they were suppose to go, they gave me a thumbs up and I walked off back to my truck hoping for the best. Thank you very much NATO.

Thankfully after a few minutes American EOD showed up with their armored truck and a flatbed, which they said was for explosives. The entire goddamn flatbed. After picking them up we were to go to the Provincial Headquarters of the Afghan National Police (ANP) to pick up the munitions’ that were to be destroyed. It was supposed to be a simple day, and then we saw just how much explosives there were.

A pile, of somewhere near one hundred and fifty, fifty pound bags of ammonium nitrite, a chemical used by the Taliban to make Homemade Explosives (HME), several rockets, bags of already made HME, landmines, plastic explosives, and recoilless rifle rounds was laid out by EOD soldiers, soon we loaded everything, unstable explosives included, in the back of the flatbed truck and strapped it down. The EOD guys posed with the explosives and took pictures, the EOD platoon sergeant came up to Two, Alpha, and I to give details to where we were going to go and blow all this. “This is from a twenty-six day period, all in the city.” The senior EOD guy said, he saw a few of us eyeing the pile of explosives in the back of the flatbed. “It wasn’t even a bad month” he laughed.

Our convoy started back down the crowded streets of Kandahar City, our Platoon Sergeant laughed, explaining a week before he got yelled at by our Operations Cell for transporting ammunition through the city, alas we get attacked and create an explosion that would level a city block. Yet here we were driving a truck full of enough explosives to kill god, with full clearance of our Task Force. If we were ambushed at this point Kandahar City would have looked like Hiroshima Circa 1945.

Our convoy crossed into a gated afghan community, or what was supposed to be one. Heavily guarded by police, well constructed, clean roads, dotted with traffic lines (any sort of traffic control in Afghanistan is rare to nonexistent), sidewalks that were being used by old haggard afghan farmers rather than just walking in the middle of the road. It looked like if you built all the groundwork for a middle class American suburb, but then stopped right before you started on the houses, then dropped it in the middle of the third world. It had ‘American contractor money’ written all over it. We were coming here to blow up everything we had in the truck, I guess just to remind the rich Afghans that were going to move in that they were in fact, still in Afghanistan.

We pulled off the road and into a place that looked like it had been totally abandoned by humanity, it was obviously a place where EOD had blown up plenty of stuff before, twisted metal shrapnel and broken rocks littered the area. Dust and sand choked all of us as we tried to unload the flatbed, it was like building a bomb piece by piece in the middle of a sand storm. We struggled to offload the bags of nitrite in the wind, the bags leaked white powered over all of us as we piled them up, EOD laid out the rest of the explosives. Then they started to build what EOD described as a ‘Layer Cake’ of explosives.

The bottom of the cake was the rockets, landmines, ect, laid out neatly in rows, then on top of that we laid out a layer of nitrite bags, very carefully, then EOD put down block after block of C4, a high explosive, by the end of the first layer there was more C4 than anything else, then C4 was all strung together with detonation cord, another high explosive, we then laid out another layer of nitrite bags. Another few layers were put together like the first, and then EOD broke out something they called ‘data sheets’ yet another high explosive, it looked like ‘Fruit by the Foot’, but made out of military grade explosives, they pulled out two whole rolls of it over the top in a grid-like pattern. To top off their high explosive cake came the sprinkles, otherwise known as blocks of TNT. Three whole cases of TNT were strung together with even more detonation cord, fuses were finally put in and the cake was finished.

“It’s about sixteen thousand pounds of shit.” Mused an EOD officer “give it take a few thousand” One of our soldiers asked him how far away we should be from the explosion when it goes off “Probably about one thousand meters, but we’ll be roughly half of that.” The officer smiled “we just spent three hours putting this all together; I want to see this shit explode” the EOD soldiers then started rolling out the wire that would allow them to set it off, around five-hundred meters worth, all the way to where we would park our trucks and watch. About ten minutes later we saw the biggest explosion I’ve ever seen in my life.

Everyone crowded inside the safety of our armored trucks and waited for the upcoming event. Peering through our small ballistic windows, we watched the dusty expanse where somewhere out of eye sight our giant cake of explosives was wired to go at any moment. “Fire in the hole!” EOD screamed over the radio, seconds later the biggest explosion I’ve ever seen tore through the sky. A mushroom cloud shot up hundreds of feet into the air, covering the entire valley with dirt, shrapnel, and dust. A shockwave ripped across the earth and slammed into our trucks that were parked about five hundred meters away, they all rocked on their axels. Soldiers cheered in the cramped confines of their trucks, and we rolled back down to the bomb site to check out the crater. The massive bomb turned the valley floor into something resembling what you’d see on a distant planet, with light dust covering everything; each step sent it into the air scratching at our eyes, and clogging our lungs.

After a few more pictures we got back in our trucks and rolled out, leaving massive destruction in our wake, but somehow made Kandahar a safer place in the process. While it was only less than a month of gathered explosives from the surrounding city, we still managed to deny the enemy several thousand pounds of explosives they could have created hundreds of bombs with and used on soldiers on patrol. This was just a drop in the bucket that is weapons in Kandahar, and EOD carries out these operations on nearly a daily basis all over the country, many bigger than the one we went on. Thankfully whenever we need them, EOD is always on call, ready to come out to where we are and solve our problems with high grade explosives.

The Army And Mental Health

December 12, 2011 2 comments


By Joseph Kassabian

All soldier’s identities, places, times, and events have been changed to protect the people in the story from any and all liability. Everything contained in the story is true.

Throughout time soldiers have marched off to war in far flung lands and the whims of those in power with the simple agreement that they would be paid, and taken care of when, or if they returned home. Somewhere in the last ten years of war, the Army forgot one of the key parts of that agreement; they are not giving soldiers the treatment that they had promised, sending soldiers back onto mission, or back home to their families, their mind’s scarred from the effects of war, unbroken hyper vigilance, and trained aggression. The number of soldiers coming home with untreated Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is frightening.

The smallest signs of PTSD can be seen within weeks or months of serving in a combat zone, without a single shot being fired, without a single encounter with the enemy. The act of patrolling a hostile country, always vigilant to the possible threats at hand, scanning the roof tops, eyeing every person who walks by, knowing that they could be strapped with explosives, every car that drives by, the constant thought of being in another person’s crosshairs. These are not feelings and habits one can just put down after a year, or sometimes more. They stay with you for life.

The Army says they are at the cutting edge of PTSD and mental health treatment; the reality is something totally different. While serving in a combat theater soldiers can request to see a Chaplin for spiritual help, Combat Stress for anger management and learning to deal with stress, and Behavioral Health for mental health concerns. None of these things really work. A Chaplin, while having the best intentions, will always tell you what you’re doing while at war is totally justified, and has very limited training in the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders. It’s not the Chaplin’s fault, being an officer in the army he is limited to what he can really say and do.

Combat Stress is the Army’s answer to a soldier’s massive amounts of stress one deals with while deployed. Easily the most stressful time of a soldier’s life, it can be very hard to deal with, some get pushed over the edge, and record amounts of these soldiers are taking their own lives every year. A soldier who has attended the Army’s Combat Stress class talked anonymously about his experiences. “Instead of asking me what was stressing me out or anything, they tried to teach me breathing exercises that would calm me down.” He laughed “Last time I checked I do combat patrols, what the fuck kind of miracles will breathing exercises do me out there?” He said, aggravated, “I went to them for help and they tell me this shit” He threw away his cigarette “oh yeah they gave me pamphlets to read too.” Another soldier talked about the Combat Stress class held at Kandahar Air Field, “They made us pet a dog. I’m not even kidding. That was it.”

Behavioral Health is normally something soldiers are sent to by their commanders. The process normally begins when a soldier snaps either under stress or just being sick of their condition, probably at a supervisor, has their weapons taken away, and then is shipped off to a bigger outpost where they can find a Behavioral Health ‘specialists’. The Army insists that soldiers that request, or are sent here, for help are not ostracized, judged, or punished. This is not true. Soldiers are looked down at, mercilessly taunted, and thought of as ‘weak’. Normally no sort of diagnosis is made, and the soldier is just medicated, the medication can’t be found at outlying outposts, so the medicated soldier runs out, and the process starts over again. It should be noted that these ‘specialists’ at behavioral health are just army medics. Not to speak badly of the medical corps of the United States Army, they are well trained emergency medical personnel, able to fight like a soldier, but save life like an EMT, but would you go to an EMT for your mental health? Exactly.

The biggest problem soldier’s face is PTSD. Soldiers in theater can feel themselves changing, noticing that they can’t sleep, are always aggressive, and suffer from random panic attacks. A soldier talks about what he’s noticed “I suffered a panic attack while trying to get coffee, large groups of people piss me off.” The soldier never suffered panic attacks beforehand. Other soldiers, once level headed, now kill and torment animals for entertainment, fight each other, and, as recent news has shown, kill innocent civilians. Many soldiers go home with untreated mental disorders, a year’s worth of pent up anger and stress, and unrepentant aggression. When do seek help once home they jump through hoops of paperwork and judgment, and if you are stationed at Fort Hood Texas, of November massacre fame, you can wait up to three months to see someone for help.

What does all this mean? Hundreds of thousands of soldiers are coming home from war, many untreated and undiagnosed. Cast out by an uncaring, unfeeling organization that cuts costs instead of extending the hand of once promised medical treatment. What do soldiers do when all the pamphlets, untrained medical personnel, breathing exercises, dogs, and preaching fail them? Extreme cases can unfortunately be found on the evening news.

What kind of world do we live in where petting a dog is considered a medical practice? A world with no oversight or common sense, and where words are as good as actions. Paying lip service to soldiers and civilians does the Department of Defense (DoD) nothing for anybody. Instead the DoD pushes the blame of unstable soldiers on the rising number of drug and alcohol abuse cases within the armed forces, never mind the fact that soldiers diagnosed with PTSD are more likely to resort to drugs for self medication. How long will it take the DoD to own up for their mistakes and abandonment? If Vietnam teaches us anything, the better part of half of a century.

 

The Longest year Of Your Life

December 5, 2011 4 comments

 

By Joseph Kassabian

All soldiers names, places, times, and dates have been changed to protect operational security and to protect those involved from any liability. Everything in this story is true.

One year. Three hundred and sixty five days. That is the length of a deployment for your average US Army soldier. Stripped of comfortable amenities that those at home take for granted like cable television, smart phones, and reliable high speed internet. Your world’s population shrinks down to a population of about thirty people, imagine, seeing the same twenty to thirty people for an entire year, whether at work or trying to relax, day in and day out twenty-four hours a day, three hundred and sixty-five days out of the year.

A deployment isn’t all missions, fighting, and patrolling. On average a soldier will have more down time while deployed, than they will ever see at home, the irony is the time off soldiers always wanted is their biggest curse. A bored soldier generally causes trouble or bodily harm to those around them; I don’t mean to insult any of the soldiers I work with, it’s just the nature of the beast. What do you think a group of teenaged to mid-twenties young men would do for fun, for an entire year, while being separated from any of their loved ones? Things that would make prisoners with a life sentence stare in awe. You’d be surprised how fast the façade of manners, decency, and shame vanish in the face of sheer unrelenting boredom.

First a black market of sorts opens up for the vast wealth of pirated movies, music, and porn that any self respecting US Army soldier has on their computer (One soldier brags that he has thirty-five gigabytes of porn alone on his computer, another laughs and says he has one hundred and thirty-six). Hard drives get passed around, Ipods get uploaded, and before long everyone has each other’s files. Next comes books, those like myself who have a habit of carrying a small library with them on every deployment start passing books around to others, even those who haven’t read a book since middle school suddenly have a change of heart. No one ever gets their books back, but no one really cares. One soldier brags he read ninety-five books already, and at the time of writing this we still have five months left.

Sports are always a social way of having fun, and getting decent exercise. Sports in the army on the other hand are a sure fire way to get tackled even when the sport does not require tackling, getting assaulted with the football, basketball, baseball, etc., cheating or being cheated on the rules or the score, and of course drawing blood or being bloodied yourself. I should mention that where we currently live, the only place to play sports is a large motor pool that we park our vehicles in, which is covered in giant ankle breaking rocks as a way to keep the dust down. So while playing a game of football, you’re sliding around on rocks, twisting your ankle, and trying not to get tackled into the armored trucks that are covered in razor wire. If the super stars in the NFL played under those conditions they would switch to a safer sport like mixed martial arts or chainsaw juggling.

When confronted by the lack of people to play football in the rock field of death, we simply invent our own games. This brings us to ‘Footsketball’. A combination of football, baseball, and sheer stupidity it is also, surprisingly, played indoors for some reason. One player lines up with a softball bat. He is obviously the batter, while another lines up down the hallway with a football. He is for some reason considered a pitcher. The catcher and umpire is the same person, and will randomly scream out ‘strike’ or ‘ball’ regardless where the pitch really goes. The pitcher will alternately throw a real pitch, or simply chuck the football at the batter’s head. There are no penalties or fouls in this sport. If the batter somehow hits the ball, what ‘base’ he makes it to depends on a few things: what damage he causes with the football, more damage more bases, and what the combined insults of the pitcher, the catcher, and the audience get the batter to agree that what he hit only constituted a ‘single’. This game has only been played once for good reason.

Conversations about everything and anything rule the day, on mission or back at the outpost. Nothing is off limits. Insults that would make our mothers cry become a part of everyday conversation. Most times the conversations end with questioning the sexual orientation of another soldier, or someone waving their genitals around in the air, at that point another conversation starts about how big or small said soldier’s genitals are, which for some reason always reminds someone of a story from their past. Gallows humor is second only to gay jokes. Hours long talks about the pros and cons of losing certain limbs over others. Why losing your penis to a roadside bomb constitutes a reason to kill yourself or why it does not. The threat of ‘I’m going to kill you’ loses its heft when it’s repeated a hundred times a day. Randomly our squad will speak broken Spanish, with the normal soldier only knowing a few words, we settle for a bad Mexican accent, the one person of our squad who speaks Spanish resorts to teaching us all swear words, we repeat them like mentally handicapped parrots, this has been going on for months.

We even manage to go hunting. While the area we live in would hardly even be considered livable to those in the comfortable embrace of the U.S. we scratch by. One of the ways we do this is by getting rid of the wild animals who infest our small outpost. Of course by ‘getting rid of’ I mean chasing them down and shooting them. For some reason we were suffering a serious cat problem our first few weeks of living in the cramped outpost. Now normally soldiers adopt local animals and take care of them as their own, but the sheer volume of cats in such a small place was not going to work. They found their way into our living areas, cooking areas, and eating areas. Since they had normally lived out in Kandahar proper they were rife with diseases they could very possibly spread to us. With the ‘hunt’ being sanctioned at the highest levels we set out searching our areas looking for them. For weeks after, randomly throughout the day gunshots would ring through the air, followed by either curses if the soldier missed or cheers if the soldier bagged their prey. The confused glances of the Afghan National Policemen we live with as we ran around hunting seemingly harmless cats only added to the hilarity. Eventually the hunt ended when either the cats learned their lesson or they were all gunned down in cold blood.

While the things we do for fun would probably be considered irresponsible, stupid, and childish we don’t do them out of pure joy. Time doesn’t just go by slow here, it scrapes and drags its way across the calendar, and the combination of painful boredom and separation from our loved ones brings out the most creative and shameless part in all of us. We are not special, you’ve heard stories of prisoners making their own dice for something to do, we just happen to make our own sports and pornography viewing film festivals. While it will shock many that the ‘professional defenders of freedom’ sink to such depths for entertainment, underneath the uniforms and combat gear lies a bunch of lonely, angry people just wanting to go home to their families.

 

Kandahar’s Most Wanted

November 28, 2011 1 comment


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.

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