Look, I'm not doing this for you, but for my own dark and twisted reasons. Oh, and because everyone else is doing it.


August 27, 2004

message from afghanistan - part 2

I'm thinking of adding "puc 'em" and "puc' ed" to my vocabulary.

Subject: News from the Dust

I had been out on a re-supply patrol to the comapny main body down south, 2-3 hours down Ring Road (the one highway) and 2-3 hours back-just long enough to get back to base in time for making my call. Last time I did this re-supply run (via convoy) though, things got delayed and I ended up staying over night.

First, we saw some police with weapons that they are not supposed to have. Precisely, they had some 82mm recoilless rifles (that's goobledigook for rocket launcher), along with 9 rounds for it. Those rounds are often used for rocket attacks on US bases, except the weirdos don't use the launcher but lay the rockets on some rocks and aim in the general direction of the target. As inaccurate as they may be, we still like to remove the weaponry from the 'market'. To make long story short --oh wait, it's too late for that-- we stopped and agreed to make an exchange: weapons and rounds for the right to keep their PK machine gun. While we stopped we noticed some guy taking pictures of us.

So as a second distractor, we had to talk to this guy. He gave his name as Haji Kabul. I alsmost spat at him, it made me lauch so hard. The tenacity to think we buy it! Anyway, he had no plausible explanation for why he was taking pictures of us. In fact he denied he did. I wasn't going to have anything of it, traded his camera for a hand-written receipt, and told him he could pick it up again at our compound. We'd like to talk to him there in peace. In the end we chalked it down to a reconnaissance effort on behalf of our enemy. Next time I see somebody like this, he'll be PUC'ed. PUC stands for personnel under US custody-lingo to avoid the legal quarrels. The troops delightedly say "PUC'em" (puckem) when they see some foulplay.

Part of my mission yesterday was to convoy down to our company main body, deliver supplies, fresh personnel, and to pick up an undisclosed number of PUCs which we held at the local police compound, and bring them back to our main compound here. Suffice it to say we need more holding cells now. Taking PUCs is a feel-good act for all of us troops. It's a visible proof that we're making some sort of progress, where progress is otherwise invisible, intangible. These guys were apprehended during the fire fight I mentioned above. One of them ran away from troops through an orchard, seeking refuge in an Afghan compound. I guess he hadn't notice that one squad of ours had just taken that compound over for searching. Ooops. Imagine good old Haji running through the door of the compound, seeking safety from the American guns, only to be staring into 10 of them from the business end. "Hello there! Why don't you put on these cuffs and sit down over there?" That was an easy one.

The jackpot, however, was delivered to our doorstep in another fashion. Some of you may have read that we had an IED attack about 2 weeks ago. One morning a guy presented himself to a local hospital for treatment. He was in a poor shape. His face was a bloody pulp, he had three fingers missing on one hand, and half his forearm missing on the other side. This fine gentleman, it turned out, had been playing with explosives, and happened to be the main/sole suspect in the IED attack from the other week. He had blown himself up while implanting another IED. As a friend of mine here said: "Could've happened to a nicer guy!" So this guy instantly became a PUC. I am not as big on revenge as I am on justice, but I have to admit that I got some satisfaction out of imagining his physical pain, his fear, and the knowledge that he will be forever bearing the signs of his calous acts--if he lives. We treated him and later saw him off to a flight to Bagram. They'll fix him up real nice so
that he won't buy the farm when we interrogate him for information. He is a gold mine, of course, but the question remains how to get the gold. We already learned a lot from him: what his devices look like before they explode, who works with him directly, where he lives. We even met his mom, no kidding. But there's much more to find out, and we've got our best professionals on the case now.

To pick up the subject of progress, let's talk about corruption. People used to be honest here 20 years ago. Not so now. When the current government came to power, they had to appoint many people to positions of trust and power who are not trustworthy, but who already held positions of power. One reason why this happened is that relative peace and security was needed to get on the path of recostruction. If they'd gone in and said "all you people with dirt on your hands and out", those people would have fought the government. To end the cycle of warfare here, the government had to compromise and hope to be able to re-visit the appointments at a later stage. Now, the elections are nearing. Some of those appointees may fear to lose their office by vote. They don't like that idea and they are now in a position to do something about it. Provincial and district governors can ammass weapons and men of war legitimately, both of which can be used illegitimately against the popular vo
te results later. That's just one reason why we are keeping tabs on those guys ans weapons. Another case on corruption: the provincial policie chief keeps 15 officers in some village down south to protect the local population from the excesses of the Taliban who come in at night to twist arms. The officers are given money (from UN funds) for food. They pocket the money and force the villagers to feed them. Then, they are not doing a great job in intercepting the Taliban, the Taliban come in and punish the villagers for feeding the police. A third story: the contractors who re-build/improve Ring Road have security guards to protect them from the Taliban/Al Qaeda poeple who'd like to prevent the government from being able to show progress. Some of these security guard use their position of power to put up illegal check points where they demand money from travellers for passage.

This country will need a long time to come back to its senses. And, more troops.

All the best to you back home!!!

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