Category Archives: Afghanistan

My Times with Afghans, Refugees Here and Abroad

Humvees FAIL

Soldiers spend a lot of time taking vehicles to the motor pool for repair. The streets are rough, and Humvees are surprisingly susceptible to problems. Power steering hoses pop, and you lose control—not good.

The engine’s moving parts are connected by one long serpentine belt. If it breaks—which is common, they’re completely out of commission. It must be a pretty anxious moment to break down on an Iraqi street. I read a lot in the press how much of the army’s equipment has broken down, so I’m not surprised.

The Humvee was designed during the Cold War to cruise the cool or snow-bound paved highways of Central Europe, not the pock-marked 120 degree gravel paths of the Iraqi desert. The words of Captain Donald Rumsfeld, ring in my ears, when complained to by a soldier that the gear was inadequate, if not downright unsafe for the job: “Sometimes you have to fight a war with what you have, not what you want.” Same goes for leadership, I suppose.

Young Afghan Journalists and Continual Death Threats Against Them

Amin Wahidi, 25 year old journalist, filmmaker, and free-speech advocate was recently granted refugee status in Italy after attending the Venice International Film Festival and participating in a Summer School on Cinema and Human Rights at the European Inter-university Center for Human Rights and Democratization. He is currently living in a refugee shelter in Milan, Italy.

Wahidi has spent his whole life in Afghanistan, but after recent numerous death threats has decided to remain in Italy. A series of comments left on Wahidi’s blog from a self-proclaimed Taliban said a suicide bomber would meet Wahidi’s plane when it landed in Kabul. His family recently fled Kabul due to similar threats against them.

Wahidi’s experience is but one example of a widening pattern of violence against young Afghan media workers and journalists. It is part of an alarming relapse back to the days of the Taliban and warlords. Young activists are facing increasing violence and censorship—some from within the U.S. supported Afghan government. They have been threatened, arrested, jailed, kidnapped, had their studios vandalized, and been beaten.

Several young media personalities, including women, have been murdered in the past three years. This year, two have been killed, and they are held up as examples of what will happen to others who attempt to speak out. As a result, many educated, creative media people are fleeing Afghanistan, making it easier for the violent fundamentalists and criminal gangs to have their way.

Though fearing for his safety, Wahidi wants to tell the true story of how Afghanistan is slipping backwards, despite the efforts of many concerned countries and organizations such as NATO, the U.S., and the UN. Like many Afghans, he feels these efforts are insufficient and that Afghanistan is being forgotten by the world once again.

In the short term, Wahidi wants to come to the U.S. to finish his university education, and make films and documentaries about conditions in Afghanistan. He also wants to be a lifeline to colleagues remaining in Afghanistan through the Afghan Academy of Arts and Cinema Education and The Filmmakers Union of Afghanistan. Most important, he wants to return to Afghanistan to work for re-building a democratic, just, and productive society there. His primary interest is to make films on the difficulty of establishing freedom of expression, justice, and human rights in his country.

In early 2005, Wahidi was hired as one of the first writer/producer/director/presenters at the new Ariana Television and Radio Network (ATN), based in Kabul. It was the first independent network to broadcast across Afghanistan, and quickly added coverage via satellite to North America, Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia and across South Asia to the Pacific.

Wahidi produced and hosted three concurrent television programs for ATN: a magazine-style news series on world cinema, an English language instructional series, and a cultural history series focusing on music. He also worked in network promotion and was the assistant programmer for a time. After leaving ATN in 2007, he worked in the production and news departments of two other Afghan broadcast networks, Nureen and Farda.

Prior to working in broadcast, Wahidi developed strong English language skills. In 2004 he was a lead translator/interpreter for the U.S. Army’s Office of Military Co-operation for Afghanistan, in Kabul. He has worked for other translation companies, able to conduct simultaneous English/Farsi-Dari interpretations and document translation.

Wahidi’s ethnic background is Hazara, a consistently persecuted Afghan minority. His father, a Hazara activist, has been arrested and threatened for organizing demonstrations and speaking out against mistreatment of not just Hazara, but all Afghans.

After the ouster of the Taliban in 2002, there was hope for Afghanistan. Cinemas re-opened, Independent TV and radio stations went on the air, scores of newspapers and magazines began to publish, art galleries and performance spaces became active, schools opened, and women returned to work in media, education, healthcare, and government. The country which had endured 30 years of brutal occupation and civil war began to breathe again, a situation especially welcomed by a young generation eager to join the modern world. Now these gains are losing ground, and this sad story is almost invisible to the American public.

See more about Amin Wahidi and subscribe to his blog at www.aminwahidi.blogspot.com

Blowing Up Doors

In In Kuwait, there is a training site where soldiers learn how to open doors. Since much of their work involves acting on tips from locals regarding buildings where militants may be hiding weapons caches, bomb factories, or themselves, the soldiers need to learn this. They use various methods to open doors. Sometimes a simple knock will do, but sometimes the information is so urgent that bursting through a door is best.

The training site features a long masonry wall with multiple doorways hung with doors of different materials, strengths and styles. The soldiers go from door to door opening them with either a crowbar, maybe a shotgun blast, or an explosive charge that blows the door off its hinges.

At the end of the row, the soldiers take a break while a local contractor and crew cleans up the mess. They jump down from their truck which is piled high with new doors, and make quick work of hanging and locking them for the next go around. They do this all day long, but hey, it’s work.

Merry Christmas to American Soldiers from an Exiled Afghan Journalist

A message received from our friend Amin Wahidi, a writer an educational TV producer from Afghanistan, who now lives in a refugee shelter in Italy, waiting for a judgment on his request for political asylum there.  Amin fled Afghanistan last fall after receiving death threats from the Taliban, because he produced programs on English instruction, film history, and music instruction. He is an outspoken supporter of freedom of expression and diversity of religions, democracy, peace and social justice. 


Merry Christmas – Buon Natale

Eid ul Addha ( The Feast of Sacrifice) one of the biggest feasts for the Muslims came and passed while I am apart from my family, home, friends and I felt how difficult it is to be far from family and miss them on such an important occasion.

When I couldn’t say happy eid to my family and friends face to face, now I would like to take the chance of saying merry Christmas to those people from foreign lands who serve in my country and are far from their families at Christmas and the new year occasion.

Merry Christmas to you all, who are reading my blog right now.

And merry Christmas to you who is now far from his home, family and relatives but serving for peace, rebuilding and democracy in my country Afghanistan though missing your dearest ones back in your country in this important occasion, now being far from home, I can feel you very well.

Merry Christmas to you all, who serve in the cold, mountainous and snowy central highlands of my country to keep peace and security for my people, al though you miss your family, country and friends in this occasions that only comes once a year.

Merry Christmas to you all who serve in the windy, dusty and dangerous deserts of Helmand and other south western provinces of my country to keep peace for my people although any moment could be of death or life for you.

Merry Christmas to you all who serve and patrol in the streets of Kabul, where any moment you could expect a bomb blast and could lose your life for peace, freedom and democracy for my people.

And merry Christmas to all civilian and military who serve for peace, security, freedom and democracy in different corners of Afghanistan.

May God bless you all and you will begin the new year with hopes and full of peace, security, happiness for you and for the people of Afghanistan.

Mohammad Amin Wahidi
Exiled writer, journalist and filmmaker from Afghanistan
www.aminwahidi.blogspot.com

Kamels in Kuwait

There are numerous training facilities in Kuwait, the initial staging area for many American troops who spend some time there acclimating themselves to the desert environment. The soldiers regularly train to keep in shape and maybe learn some helpful tips. In one exercise, the unit was bussed to an artillery range deep in the desert. The view was rolling sand dunes for 360 degrees.

Before practice firings could begin in earnest, a gun misfired. No one was hurt, but it required an expert investigation, which took several hours. Safely certified, they were ready to fire the first shots when a herd of camels appeared on the horizon, necessitating another stand-down. Firing range personnel dispatched a fleet of Humvees to hurry the beasts along. But camels it seems have little fear of puny humans or their machines, and it looked like a lunch break made sense while the round-up proceeded.

The soldiers hunkered down opening their MRE (Meals Ready to Eat) pouches, but were interrupted by a group of the dispersed camels who had developed a taste for MREs. Hopelessly addicted to meatloaf and gravy dinners, they began snatching MREs right out of the soldiers’ hands. Again, camels have little fear of humans, whom they outsize 5 to 1, and whose teeth can cut a NY strip-sized hunk from an arm. The day promised to be quite long– and was. The army does not cancel training.

Dangerous Iraq

Evan phoned yesterday from Iraq, a rare occurrence, because he usually calls on the weekend. His work schedule, as always is unpredictable. It had been an easy, but boring day because his unit had been on the emergency response duty. He was upset, however, because the day before, a car bomber destroyed a checkpoint run by one of the local militia units that were being trained by Evan’s unit.

Evan felt the huge explosion while in his barracks and knew it was something terrible. His squad rushed to the scene, but nothing was left—no car, no guard shack, no barriers, just a big hole in the road. Five young men were killed. Beyond my imagination.

The U.S. troops vowed to return right away with materials to build a new checkpoint, and re-double their training efforts. There are ways to avoid bombs at checkpoints, but making a mistake can be fatal. The Iraqis need that extra important training.

Yesterday, The New York Times published an intense article about an extremist jihadi, Samir Khan, who lives right here in Charlotte and runs a jihadi website that includes links to videos of car bomb explosions on the Internet, placed to entertain and attract potential “martyrs”. These videos are cut like music videos and are dedicated to some god, not Allah, for sure. Khan, born in Saudi-Arabia, home of most of the 9/11gang, grew up in the U.S. and lives with his parents in a middle class home in Charlotte. I hope somebody gets hold of him before he gets his wish to become a martyr himself soon.

I’m sure the families of the five young militia men who put their lives on the line to help stop the rampage of criminal gangs in Iraq would like to get hold of Mr. Samir Khan too.

Kahn did find what was looking for, several years later, on an unlucky road in Yemen.

The Trouble With Afghanistan

The New York Times today had a list of the presidential candidates’ stands on various relevant topics. Of course, Iraq was near the top of the list. It was disappointing to see that the the Times only mentioned troop removal as the solution to Iraq’s problems. A more comprehensive plan that included an intensive re-building of infrastructure: education, sanitation, energy, health, transportation, and a judicial system would be more productive than just getting the troops home as soon as possible. And though this sentiment is on every Democratic candidate’s website, it was completely neglected in the Times article. Perhaps it is too complex an issue for Times readers to grasp?

The multiple failures following the West’s support of a mujahedeen insurgency against the USSR invasion of Afghanistan should be an enduring lesson that you can’t simply arm factions, then walk away to let them fight it out. There are good alternatives to a military occupation that can build an enduring peace. Afghans would not follow the Talibs one single step, if their basic human needs were being met by the Western coalition.

Even the U.S. military is taking this position more and more, but American politicians and media pander to the uninformed majority that see either “winning the war” or “getting out of the war” as the only solutions. Both are absurd: it is impossible to win or to ignore a war of insurgency. I would love to hear just one politician say “every soldier who leaves Iraq will be replaced by a doctor, lawyer, engineer, carpenter, mechanic, accountant, etc. etc. etc. and have the media repeat it.

Sadly, that goes against the grain of so much of American culture which says that winning only comes through force and submission. That may have been true in the pre-Internet, jet-plane, satellite, nuclear age, but we face a new paradigm where crazed men with a few sticks of dynamite become “Armies of One” (to borrow a U.S. Army recruiting slogan) with more power than a division of thousands—or a Humvee with a few unlucky soldiers. Hopefully our leaders will explore more solutions than running away or sacrificing its best for an impossible “victory.” Hopefully the media will support this, and not promote simplistic solutions.

Fragments from War by EM

Our correspondent has not been in touch much recently. From incomplete news media reports, we know there have been assaults in his area. When there are assaults, standard procedure at military bases is to shut down all non-essential communications, which means no phone calls or Internet access. This prevents the news media/families/others from receiving thousands of bits of very possibly incorrect information from personnel who speak from hearsay, gossip, emotion, etc. Sometimes the shut down lasts several days while the facts are sorted out and then distributed. No news is the best news.

So we wait, and….

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Our correspondent reports that falafel sandwich shops are everywhere. The other day he and a patrol of 30 soldiers walked past one, and it being lunch time, and their MRE-jaded palats yearning for something exotic, decided to spread some foreign economic assistance around. They placed an order for 30 sandwiches– the sandwiches consist of 3-4 little fried bean meal balls with onions, tomato, parsley and secret sauce in a pita pocket– the Big Mac of Iraq. The shop owner was delighted.

As reported here before, soldiers regularly spend money in shops buying drinks, sandwiches, sweets, etc. as a practical matter and to promote good international relations. Our correspondent has never gotten sick from this road food, and reports the shops are quite health conscious, with the preparers wearing latex gloves when handling the food. Maybe the local chamber of commerce runs classes in how to appeal to soldiers.

Sometimes the order is so large that the owners have to slip out the back to buy supplies at the corner grocer. But the troops are patient and grateful for the rest. It would be impolite to complain or leave because of having to wait a few minutes longer.

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Our correspondent telephoned Saturday. Indeed, there were troubles at his base. A recent blog entry from a journalist embedded at the base said one soldier had been killed and 24 rockets hit the base. Our correspondent expressed surprise that so many rockets had hit. Didn’t seem like it at the time. You never know for sure, but it’s amazing how little gets into the mainstream media.

Meanwhile his work continues as he travels outside the wire every day. It’s not terribly interesting because most of the time is spent waiting for the Iraqi police or army to decide to do something. It gives pause to wonder why so many troops will be needed over the next 12 months. The Iraqi police/military are happy the U.S. troops remain, but probably because the U.S. military is so generous with funds. Brand new Ford and Chevy pickups are sprouting like crocuses in the spring. Iraqi chop shops weld machine gun mounts to the bed and they become the poor man’s Bradley fighting vehicle. In true U.S. fashion, they even argue about which is best, Chevy or Ford. The consensus seems to be Chevy. “Ford no good,” he hears a lot. Poor Ford.

Our correspondent feels that if U.S. troops are sent home, but the money keeps flowing, the peace process would accelerate, save the U.S. billions and lower casualties and violence on all sides. Sounds like this should be a new pillar of our foreign policy. Send money, not troops. This is how Saudi Arabia and other Middle East oil barons work, and they’ve managed to tie the U.S. into a pretzel knot in both Afghanistan and Iraq for a miniscule fraction of the U.S. military costs in both of these ventures.

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Our correspondent phoned from Iraq this week to let us know things are going well for him, despite recent heart-breaking news. We had been concerned because of the terrible loss of soldiers and Iraqis in the homicidal bombing last week. The victims were in the same large battalion as our correspondent, but not personally known by him.

Generally he’s finding Iraq to be a much more peaceful place than when he left it a little more than a year ago. He said the primary troublemakers are not Iraqis, but foreigners whose goal is to destabilize Iraq and thwart progressive democratic initiatives by Iraqis. These insurgents come from other Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran—even though they are not “officially” recognized by those governments. They are well-organized and well-funded, with high-tech military gear and lots of money to bribe the poorest and most gullible Iraqis into committing desperate acts like suicide truck bombings. These funders are the real terrorists, and the root of the problem.

According to our correspondent, Iraqis see these people as a plague unleashed by the American invasion of Iraq—just as many wise Americans warned back in 2003 when George W. Bush was pushed by ill-informed neo-cons like Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, Richard Perl, and Paul Wolfowitz to dismantle the Iraqi government and created a fertile field for criminal and totalitarian elements to take root and grow with little resistance—and sometimes inadvertent assistance, as in Guantanamo and Abu Gharib.

Our correspondent works closely with the Iraqi Police and Army providing training and back-up assistance as the Iraqis track down and dismantle the insurgent leadership and infrastructure developed since the invasion. The Iraqis have become a competent force, handling intelligence, planning, and execution of raids against suspected bomb factories, weapons caches, and insurgent foreigners.

In such a role, most Iraqis are happy the U.S. forces remain, for now, but they want full control of their country returned as soon as possible. The forces agreement signed late last year between the U.S. and Iraq stipulates that the U.S. military not work independently of the Iraqis. Therefore, much of our correspondent’s work is done from Iraqi police stations. If no missions are planned on a particular day, the soldiers remain at the station until the Iraqis ask for specific support. Our correspondent is impressed by their bravery in facing violent situations alone.

The missions are usually planned jointly, but the Iraqis carry them out. The U.S. forces hang back, with air support and other options on alert, in case immediate assistance is requested by the Iraqis. His sector is a fairly upscale neighborhood of professionals, teachers, and students living in large, well-taken care of homes with clean streets and parks, so it is generally safer. The insurgents infiltrate the poorest, densely populated neighborhoods, where they can easily hide, threaten, cajole and bribe distressed, angry, and even mentally ill people into planting roadside bombs or performing suicide attacks.

A surprising amount of time is spent drinking tea and munching from trays of sweets provided by the Iraqi hosts, while they discuss situations and strategies at the police station. Our correspondent asks that we think of this cooperative situation, when the news is full of dire events.

When asked if he was getting soft from the tea and sweets, our correspondent reminded me there was still plenty of walking with 80 lb backpacks, both day and night. In downtime at the barracks, he’s been going to the exercise room, where a body-builder buddy gives him free professional-level personal training, and is turning him into an Arnold Schwarzenegger look-alike (painfully, he added).

Much time is spent walking through the community, establishing a presence. Streets are busy, shops are open, and people crowd the sidewalks. The soldiers stop in cafes and restaurants for snacks and drinks. They have a budget to buy stuff in shops, which keeps the shopkeepers happy. They’ll always and chat (through interpreters) with people on the street.

We sent a tiny helmet-mounted video camera to our correspondent who reports he has taken several hours of video during these patrols, and will send a few DVDs soon. He says we’ll enjoy the lively street scenes in this newly relaxing Iraqi culture.

Our correspondent relayed the following example of the improving cultural interaction when he was on foot patrol in a residential neighborhood.

During regular breaks, squad members bend down on one knee, a good, alert resting position (and practically a smaller target). One soldier stationed himself next to an iron gate, and soon an old man opened the gate to peer out at the commotion of a dozen soldiers on his doorstep. His surprised eyes met the kneeling soldier’s at his feet, and he said “Salaam.” The soldier dutifully replied with the proper “Asalaam allaykum.” The old man perused the soldier a moment then went back into the house. He returned with an old plastic chair which he placed on the street and offered to the soldier with a brief comment. The translator yelled out, “He said– ‘As long as you’re relaxing, you should be comfortable.’” The soldier, again mindful of his cultural sensitivity training, didn’t dare refuse, so nodded with thanks, smiled, and sheepishly took the seat. The rest of the squad, still on their knees, stared wide-eyed, barely controlling their laughter. Regrettably, our correspondent’s camera was not on at the time.

It’s a relief to hear of the improving conditions in Iraq. Stories like this, which rarely get into the big media, give us hope and a measure of comfort.

As far as we know now, most likely, our correspondent is OK. We haven’t had any official news from the military on this as of 6:14 pm EST today (Monday, Feb 9), but reports started coming in on AP, Reuters, CNN, BBC and others today around noon that four U.S. soldiers and their Iraqi interpreter, as well as several civilians were killed when a suicide bomber drove a car into a Humvee riding in a convoy in Mosul, and detonated the explosive, destroying the Humvee.

Naturally we are terribly concerned, but our sources close to command of our correspondent’s unit have not been informed of casualties, so the assumption is that they were in a different unit.

The horror of this is huge, no matter what. We will post any news here as soon as we hear anything.

The Washington Post has an article

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Our correspondent sent this email describing his typical day. Times are intentionally blocked out. IP means Iraqi Police. You can probably google all other acronyms.

A POEM FOR IRAQ

well, lights on was at ****

i kicked off my sleeping bag, put my shower shoes on and grabbed my toiletry bag, my towel and a bottle of water

walked out to the shower trailer, only 20m from our building

air was very chilly in bare feet and PTs, so i hurried over to it

water was nice and piping hot because it was early, and because most everyone is living elsewhere

shaved, and brushed my teeth with the bottled water because i dont trust the water

walked back to my room and changed into ACU’s, i noticed they have a tear in them, so i make a mental note to take them over to a “tailoring” place run by a quartermaster company that will repair them

head outside and chat with my buddies joe, nick, and the LT while they have their morning cigarettes

i sling my weapon over my shoulder and we walk over to the chow hall

its cool and crisp, probably in the low fifties, our breath puffs in the air

talk a little about the mission that day, the LT is upset that he didnt get anymore planning time, if we had more time to plan we could split into multiple teams and arrange for air cover, as it is, we’ll “keep it simple, stupid” and manuever as one element

we all show our ID’s and that our weapons are on “safe” to the chow-hall guards

i wash my hands thouroughly, with lots of soap

chow hall is nice, i think about getting a made-to order omelet, but decide on scrambled eggs, a biscuit, and fruit juice

we head back, its almost **** now, and i make sure my team has started getting the MRAP ready, i remind Burnett to get the rhino warmed up, and Barth that we got some lubricant in, so he should make sure to apply some to the machine-guns bolt today, they say “roger, sergeant”

burnett tells me that the vehicle is ready at around ****, i spot check the vehicle, checking radio frequencies and that there is fresh oil on the 240B, the guys have a couple of battery-powered speakers and are listening to hip-hop and joking around by the trucks

the LT and Ski come out a little after ***** and give us the mission brief, go over the “SIGACTS” (significant actions of the last 24 hours), current “BOLO” (be on the look out) for vehicles and personnel.

**things are expected to heat up before election day**

one of our interpreters is going on vacation for two weeks, so we take a few minutes to strap his suitcases in the trucks, (we strive to have nothing loose in the trucks, in case of a rollover or IED strike)

we all pile in the vehicles and perform final radio checks and head out

we drive out the gate and take turns firing the heavy machine guns into the test fire pit, i smile as our 240B chatters happily with its fresh lubrication. a few small iraqi boys scramble to scoop up the brass from the expended catrigdes

we drive north, then turn east and drive over the river, there are several bridges, and already lots of traffic, IP’s guard every intersection and whistle shrilly to clear traffic out of our way

its a 20-minute drive to a checkpoint outside the city, where we drop off the interpreter “Freddy,” on the way i chat with him and find out that he was an infantry sergeant and fought against Iran in Saddam’s army. he says if we get him an AK, he can help us on raids “no problem” also, his son is getting surgery…his medical english isnt so great, so i dont understand what the problem is, but that the doctors dont anticipate any problems, he gives me an extra cell-phone number that we can call in a few weeks to make sure he doesnt need a few more days

when we reach the checkpoint, we pull off the road, and one of our vehicles runs over a piece of scrap metal and its tire bursts, so after Freddy is dropped off we call up HQ and let them know that we’ll be coming back in to get our tire changed

we pull in, drive over to the maintenance pad, and the mechanics jack-up and swap the tire out, probably relieved to have a simple job to work on

we head out, test fire again, and drive over to ERB-* (emergeny response battalion-*) a militarized group of IP that are supplemented by a team of IA special operations troopers

their job is primarily counter-insurgency, as opposed to the criminal-investigation of the regular IP

they have a set of shiny new pick-up trucks, with pintle mounts for russian machine guns mounted in the beds

our LT links up with the IP and goes over a “map recon” with the IP officers, making a plan to quickly surround a suspected rocket-launch site when we get the call

our soldiers take turns taking pictures of each other holding an RPG.. and we settle in for a nice 6-hour wait.

we watch wedding convoys circle the traffic circle

drink cups of insanely sweet chai (here, strong black tea)…

open up MREs for some stray dogs…. nap and relax

at **** we get the word that radar detected a series of rockets fired from well outside the city, on the plus side, they fail spectacularly, apparently spiraling off randomly

we shake hands with the IP, congratulate each other on a job well done, mount up and head back in

we clear our weapons, everyone making sure that someone else inspects their weapons firing chambers

drive over to the fuel point and fill up

its getting dark, Clark greets us, he stayed behind today and got our final humvee up and running, distributed mail, and built a living area for the new guy

i eagerly tear open my amazon package, (a gift from a random Soapbox reader in England), then, a little guiltily, for not checking on it first, spot check my vehicle, making sure gear is properly stowed and electronics are shut down correctly

i run and drop off some laundry at the laundry facility, run by filipinos

then meet up with the other NCOs and head to the chow hall, tonight is mexican food, i pick up enchiladas, rice, refried beans, and a salad

outside, nick brings me a milkshake because I got one for him the other night

Nick and I walk over to a pirate-dvd store and talk in funny english accents while discussing the merits of the various dvds

i chuckle over a “matt demon” collection

Nick selects a “future weapons, complete 4 seasons” for $15, and i head over to the mwr, hoping that the internet is working.

Sick in Iraq by EM

Searching for mines in Afghanistan c. 2004

Unfortunately, I am sick again, and much worse this time. Had to go get the medics up last night to get some help. Feeling better this morning, but after I send off this email I’m going to crawl back into my cot and try to sleep this off.

The problem is that our battalion and the battalion that we are replacing are both here at the same time, so we’re crammed into every little space imaginable. Living so close together is making sure everyone gets sick. Also, there’s so many people, that there is seldom any hot water, so people aren’t terribly clean and/or spend time very cold and wet every day.

We won’t start patrols for a while, I’ll let you know when we do. Our sector is one of the quieter ones, but is also very diverse. It includes a forest ( yes, a forest in Iraq!), a university,(oh boy…politically active young people with knowledge of chemistry and electronics), some ancient ruins (still respected to this day, although they occupy an area of good real-estate in the city they are only used as sheep and goat grazing grounds, even the insurgents seem to respect the area as out-of-bounds), and several city neighborhoods.

Oh, also a lovely section of a local river that has been known, for as long as the locals can remember, as “Shit Creek”….sounds picturesque. I’m not making that up about the creek, the intelligence officer said they’ve tried to get a different name for it from the locals so that the intelligence sergeants didn’t get to say things like “the target is up Shit Creek” in their briefings…but no luck.

Bombs Away by EM

While on a recent mission our correspondent’s squad received a call from the Iraqi police that they had discovered a team of criminals burying an IED in the street. They disrupted the vile deed, and chased the perps. Meanwhile, guards were left to keep people away from the IED, and they asked for assistance to remove the explosive device. Our correspondent, having spent a year as a combat engineer and safely blown up many an IED and other ordnance, took a look at the thing and determined that pasting a little hunk of C4 plastique explosive and detonating it would eliminate it nicely. That is the safest thing to do with an unpredictable IED.

Unfortunately, not in the engineers anymore, our correspondent no longer carried hunks of C4 in his backpack. So, they called in demolition specialists who arrived with a full team and a robot. The robot carried and set the C4 on the IED. Everyone took cover, and it was safely blown up. Our correspondent’s squad members, not having been that close to a real explosion before were mightily impressed with the power. To our correspondent, it was kind of piddling, but he went along with the spirit of the moment and acted impressed too.

He made a mental note to contact higher ups about permission to carry a hunk of C4 in his backpack, for just such situations. Why bring in a whole squad with robots, and take up hours of so many people’s time? He could have taken care of the thing in five minutes. What efficiency!

Sensible as this is, he doubts the higher-ups will buy it. Not such a bad thing for his many friends who would have one less thing to worry about.