This week, we finish JR’s sea story about his trip to Afghanistan. When we last left our intrepid hero, he was about to enter the valley where a mass of people and an Afghani warlord were waiting to meet him.
Meeting the Warlord
When we reached the bottom of the valley we were escorted to meet the warlord by a heavily armed contingent of his men. Many years have passed and I can’t remember the warlord’s name, but I will never forget the show he put on for us. The mass of people, the weapons, and the splendor of the food set out before us was meant to impress upon the MoI leadership the power this warlord had in his fiefdom, and that the Kabul government should respect that power while they were in his domain.
We got the message.
We downed more food – I have no idea what I was eating – and then sat back to watch a number of Buzkashi matches.
Let the Games Begin!
Buzkashi is a very old sport in that part of the world. Basically, expert horsemen carrying a freshly dead calf or goat carcass, ride around a pylon as everyone else tries to steal the carcass. If you succeed in making three turns around the pylon, you win. Think of it as a cross between polo and rugby played with a dead animal carcass instead of a ball.
There is prize money and honor for the winner. Needless to say, it was fascinating to watch, but each match took a LOT longer than we wanted. Still, the horsemanship on display was impressive. It was then I realized why the Afghan people were so hard to defeat and why the Brits and the Russians had so badly failed when they each invaded Afghanistan in an effort to be conquerors. The Afghans could ride anywhere, and could do so with great skill. They also knew the land on which they lived, and how to use it to maximum effect in challenging an invading force.
We finally finished the meal and then set out with the warlord and his men west into the Parwan Province hinterlands. The roads here were murderous – even worse than the roads to reach the warlord’s Buzkashi tournament.
Now, I cannot express in words, and no photo would do it justice, but the precipices we drove along were incredible. Perhaps 500 to 1000 feet down into dried out creek beds, and hundreds of feet up to our right and left as we plumbed our way through the terrain. I talked over with my bodyguard what we would do if we came under fire in those enclosed environs. His answer: “If we survive the first barrage, we drive as fast as we can until we cannot drive any further, then we get the Hell away from the vehicle and find cover behind the largest boulders we can find. The insurgents will take out the lead vehicles with RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades), which will pin us in their kill zone. Our only hope will be if our air support can get here before we are all dead.”
Sweet! Awesome! Glad I signed up for this one… Nothing like hanging your ass on the line for a near-meaningless trip into the Afghan hinterlands, all to bring some warlord into the fold until he chooses to side against you at some point. What should my grave marker read? “He was stupid,” would be fitting…
Amazingly, we did not encounter any hostile fire, but one of the ISAF guys did have to make an emergency pit stop. He may have had some bad goat meat. Not sure…
The Weapons Depot
Three more hours and we finally reached the location of the weapons cache. When we finally debarked from the vehicles, I was given the chance to explore the many caves that contained the weapons we’d come to collect. It was an impressive sight. The warlord had chosen his cache site well. The caves were fairly well hidden and I am not kidding you when I tell you the 30 Jingo trucks we brought with us were only able to collect about a third of the total cache of weapons the warlord had mustered over the previous 15 years he’d been in power. Thankfully, one of the guys on my team was an EOD tech, and he was able to check everything to make certain there were no truly unstable live rounds. Luckily, we found no booby traps either!
The drive out was worse than the drive in because every vehicle had to go even slower due to the many tons of artillery shells, RPG rounds, and other weaponry now sitting in the open-bed Jingo trucks.
One of the Jingo trucks got a flat tire as we were passing through a small village, just as the sun was setting. The vehicle was near my team at the end of the convoy, so we volunteered to stay behind to help the driver get the flat fixed.
Being a Good Samaritan
There is a basic truth about fighting insurgents. If there are little kids running around and the local people are about their business, you are probably safe. But when you are alone on the streets, you’re probably screwed.
We found ourselves alone on the streets, and it was a very uncomfortable 30 minutes while my team helped to repair the flat tire on the Jingo truck. The driver was most appreciative of our support. He may have been just as worried as we were, quite frankly. We were finally on our way just as the sun set behind the mountains. Darkness summarily engulfed us and before we knew it, we were inching our way back to the paved road that led to Kabul.
After ten hours of driving, including two breaks to refuel the two Jingo trucks in our small group, we arrived outside Kabul at the ammunition destruction location. Our mission had been to collect the old stuff, get it to that point, and hand it over to ISAF EOD personnel for destruction. Mission complete.
Four days later I was manifested for the flight back to the world. The journey on the military airlift got my bodyguard and me to Germany via Kurdistan. From Ramstein Air Base, we had to get to Stuttgart and fly commercial airlines back to the United States. Needless to say, with all our gear and our weapons, we did not leave our individual hotel rooms in Stuttgart that night. The trip through US Customs in Philadelphia, as well as dealing with the TSA as we rechecked our bags and weapons for the short hop to Virginia Beach, was a very funny time indeed. But, this blog post has already reached two parts, so, I won’t elaborate on the somersaults we had to perform for the TSA personnel to get back to Virginia Beach with all our weapons.
I returned to the Pentagon three days later after out-briefing with the SEALs and others down in the Norfolk/Virginia Beach area. It was a fairly short trip to Afghanistan, busy as Hell, but also very productive. I was able to put my new-found knowledge to work over the next few years to begin to rebuild a U.S. Navy HUMINT capability that, I believe, still functions today.
David Bruns is the creator of the sci-fi series The Dream Guild Chronicles, and one half of the Two Navy Guys and a Novel blog series about co-writing the military thriller, Weapons of Mass Deception. Check out his website for a free sample of his work.