Mujahedeen Revisited

After yesterday’s interview with a former Mujahedeen commander, I was inspired to revisit him.  I was prepared to meet the ANA Brigade surgeon but I couldn’t locate Mir Wais, the interpreter.  I wanted to get his side of the story before confronting the ANA officer.  Since he wasn’t available I opted to visit the garrison Religious Officer.  He

ANA Brigade surgeon during the school supplies drop after some ANA soldiers say the convoy first dropped off some of the donations at the Surgeon's house.

agreed to bring in his revolver that was presented to him by his former commander Massoud.

As Omid and I walked to the RO’s office, I thought about the Brigade Surgeon and the allegations of him stealing the children’s school supplies.  As much as I want to confront him with these allegations, I also want to leave this country in peace and not be distressed during my final days here.  Last night it really bothered me, but my wife and some friends responded with some comforting words and support.  As such, I will leave this chapter unfinished and go forward with my journey because there would be no just resolution.  I will chalk it up to another case of corruption that is sadly destroying this country.

Major Shah and his assistant religious officer were in their office and must have been waiting on me because on the table was some Naan bread, Afghan- made cake, and empty chai glasses.  He asked Omid and I to sit down and they would join us.  Another soldier filled our glasses with some hot green chai.  It’s called green tea due to the leaves, but it has a yellow color in appearance.  In the corner, another ANA officer sat busy reading a book.  Major Shah introduced him and revealed this officer was also a former Mujahedeen commander who served under the Massoud the Lion of Panjshir.  I was rather excited to have two former Mujahedeen commanders in the same room.

Before we started eating, Major Shah presented his pistol to me.  I could tell by the way he gingerly handled it, this gift meant a lot to him.  By him placing it into my hands was a true gesture of friendship and trust.  As for the weapon, it wasn’t really anything special to look at.  It was a Spanish-made LLama, .32 caliber pistol and the pistol handgrip was severely worn.  But it held sentimental significance, because Massoud presented this to Major Shah shortly after his Mujahedeen fighters destroyed 5 Soviet Commando helicopters.  I found it ironic they used Soviet made Zeko 1 mortars to destroy the Soviet aircraft.

Pistol presented to Major by Massoud.

When I inquired about Massoud’s leadership traits, the Major could only praise his former commander.  He said, “Massoud was a devout Muslim who prayed 5 times a day” and he was not only known as a military strategist, but equally known for his kindness and forgiveness.  These personal characteristics also played an important role in his battle successes.  When the Mujahedeen would capture Soviet-Afghan soldiers, they were treated as detainees and given an option.  They could remain a detainee or they could return to the Soviet-Afghan Army and provide intelligence on the Soviet movements.  The Major referred to these former detainees as “friends” inside the Soviet Army.  Much of their plans for ambushing relied heavily on good intelligence reports from these “friends.”

Me with 2 former Mujahedeen commanders.

As I presumed, the turning point in the conflict with the Soviets was when the Mujahedeen acquired the shoulder-fired Stinger missiles.  This weapon system was an equalizer to the Soviet MI-24 gunship helicopters.  The rebels nicknamed this helo “Satan’s Chariot” due to its awesome firepower and bombing capabilities.  NATO refers to it as the Hind.  After the introduction of this heat seeking system and the downing of 270 aircraft, the Soviets were less reluctant to fly them into battle and by 1989, the Soviets completely withdrew from Afghanistan and the Mujahedeen declared victory.

After the Soviets departed, there was a vacuum of power and the Mujahedeen factions were fighting among each other in attempt to gain power and control of the country.  This allowed the Taliban to rise to power and Pakistan unleashed thousands of brain-washed Wahhabism students from the Saudi Arabian- financed madrassas to fill the void.  When asked, Major Shah said the Taliban are a much tougher opponent than the Soviets.   The Taliban coincidentally is also composed of former Mujahedeen fighters.  They are still employing the same tactics against the coalition forces as they did fighting the Russians.

In order to defeat the Taliban, Major Shah listed several criteria.  First, the endemic corruption must be removed from all sectors of government to include the ANA.  He felt there is still too much nepotism and cronyism based on ethnic tribe origin, i.e.Tajik, Hazara, Pashtun.  The second factor is the people are not satisfied with the current government and they must unify.  Unity is the key and he repeated this theme several times.  Then he shocked me with his next statement.  He alleged Britain was supporting the Taliban.  I found this preposterous and gave him an opportunity to explain.

Maj Shah alleged Britain is playing both sides because they are supporting the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in Pakistan.  The ISI in turn is supporting the Taliban.  For the next 20 minutes I defended Britain and the Religious Officer never answered my questions directly.  He claimed the security situation is worse in Herat because of the Brits and that they don’t suffer many casualties.  I strongly objected because Britain has the second highest casualty rate behind the United States.  He also mentioned something about revenge against the United States that didn’t make sense to me.  (Note:  After the interview I tried to discuss this in more detail with Omid and I got the impression what he was inferring that Britain wanted the United States to lose the war, the same way the Soviets did.  I recall a snippet from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates memoirs, “From the Shadows”, the United States saw an opportunity “give the Soviets their Vietnam” and they took the bait and invaded Afghanistan.)

I am still perplexed over this whole issue.  There were rumors that Britain used their helicopters and dropped off the Taliban fighters in the Mazir Sharif province.  But I explained to Major Shah, this is an example of how the Taliban spread rumors in the same way they allege American soldiers intentionally burn the Koran.  These rumors are propaganda and only incite violence, demonstrations and infuriate the Afghan citizens.  However, due to the high illiteracy rate, the people believe their religious mullahs and the rumors.

Our conversation continued and the other former Mujahedeen commander decided to join in this spirited conversation.  His father was a Mujahedeen who was killed during the Soviet occupation and this seemed to inspire his fight against the Soviets.  Seeing that our conversation was at a stalemate, he shifted the topic and directed his blame toward Pakistan’s interference.  He detailed how Pakistan arrested the two Taliban leaders who were going to meet with Karzai to discuss possible reconciliation.  He alleged Pakistan arrested them to prevent them from discussing peace propositions with President Karzai.  He said, Karzai asked Pakistan to release them, but they didn’t.

So I decided to dig further to understand the political ramifications of Pakistan’s alleged involvement.  This is when this commander informed me it’s not really political as it is economical.  Pakistan is receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in support to fight the Taliban and their country is being used as an avenue to transport fuel, food, equipment, etc. to the coalition forces in Afghanistan.  As such, they make a large profit off this venue.  The commander also said Pakistan did the same thing when the United States was covertly supporting the Mujahedeen.  He said Pakistan would take their share of profit before giving money to the Mujahedeen.  So basically Pakistan doesn’t want this war to end because they don’t want to lose the millions of dollars being provided by the United States.  “Pakistan has no motivation to stop the war or the money would dry up,” he said.  This same theme has come up in other conversations, except instead of Pakistan, it is Afghanistan who doesn’t want this war to end.  The corrupt war lords and government officials enjoy receiving million dollar contracts which they subcontract out for pennies on the dollar and in turn, they become wealthy.  So if the Taliban can be kept at a stalemate, the millions and billions of dollars in aid will continue to flow in, subsequently making government officials extremely rich.

I’m glad I went back for the 2nd interview, but still puzzled about the allegations against Britain. This time I can’t attribute the misinformation due to lack of education, because the people who I conversed with are educated and seem to be very well informed.  To my British friends and brothers in arms, I don’t believe this allegation for a minute.  So please don’t be upset with my entry, because I am only reporting information from an interview.  Surprisingly, this is the 4th or 5th person who has made this same claim.

ETT elbow grease and Mujahadeen

Team leader, AF Major, leads by example

Team leader, AF Major, leads by example

After our morning meeting, my ETT team went to ANA land as usual, except today instead of mentoring, we would demonstrate teamwork to my ANA SGM.  Almost my whole team volunteered to assist with the library-tea shop project.  Our task was to remove all of the broken concrete flooring so a new concrete floor could be poured.  We removed our shirt tops and with 2 shovels and a wheelbarrow started removing the concrete.

AF MSgt flexing his "guns"

AF MSgt flexing his "guns"

With only one wheelbarrow, this limited our production and it was taking a long time because it had to be wheeled outside and dumped.  Some of my teammates used their ingenuity and found some metal roofing to serve as loading platforms.  This allowed us to effectively utilize our manpower and remove the flooring expeditiously.

AF MSgt shoveling broken concrete

AF MSgt shoveling broken concrete

The ANA SGM was rather impressed how quickly we worked and removed the concrete.  Even my interpreter Omid didn’t want left out and helped in the process.  Our team leader also showed he wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty and inhale a little bit of dust too.  It was really windy outside causing swirling dust storms.

AF team members removing broken concrete

AF team members removing broken concrete

At times our visibility was limited and the micro fine dust stuck to our uniforms and any body part that was perspiring.  In a matter of a couple of hours, all of the flooring was removed.  The library-tea shop project is progressing as planned.
Afterward, I went back to the Supply warehouse to see MSG Abdullah.  Omid used his cell phone and brought up my blog site on it.

AF SSgt carries out debris

AF SSgt carries out debris

He showed MSG Abdullah the pictures I posted of him on the blog.  I could tell by his nonverbal gestures something bothered him.  Omid explained that the pictures of him in the garden don’t really portray him as a true soldier.  For the next hour using Omid to translate, MSG Abdullah told me about his military life and the time he spent with the Mujahadeen fighting the Taliban.

MSG Abdullah in front of unfinished guard shack

MSG Abdullah in front of unfinished guard shack

MSG Abdullah had no rank and was a 17-18 year old teenager at the time when he joined the Mujahadeen in 1998.  What I found interesting is that his home province was in the North, but he traveled to the southern province near Kandahar to fight the Taliban.  Even his fellow Mujahadeen noted this.  But MSG Abdullah reason is very patriotic and to this day I have found him to be one of the most patriotic soldiers in the ANA.  He joined the fight for the love of his country.

For the next year he lived in the mountains and plotted attacks on the Taliban.  He would conceal his weapons and ammunition in a folded blanket and every few months his team would travel down to the town for food and supplies.  He said the rice was bad quality and imported from Bangladesh.  Sometimes they would have potatoes and cook them in an ammo can.  Very seldom did they eat meat.
I was cautious when asking him about engaging in battle, because most soldiers are not proud of taking another life.  He was reluctant to tell me, but he generalized some of the battles.  In one of the fiercest battles, the Taliban blocked the roadway and attacked his group with Rocket Propelled Grenades and AK-47s.  This battle lasted for 24 hours straight.  He wasn’t certain whether he took a life because he didn’t go check, but in around about way he explained that in combat it’s your life or theirs.  I respected his explanation and didn’t pry any further.  Even now, he said his neighbors still fear him and they used to be former Taliban.

Farewell to Navy medic, HM2 John Opara

Farewell to Navy medic, HM2 John Opara

To close out the night, we bid farewell to our Navy medic, HM2 John Opara.  The team leader presented him his Army Commendation medal along with some other certificates.  HM2 Opara mentored the ANA medical personnel and was an integral member of our team.  He is also the 2nd person to beat me at ping-pong.  We all wish John the best as he returns to his family.

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