Happy belated St Patty’s Day! Here, we all celebrated by the wearing of the green, which is of course the normal daily wear around here anyway. But at least we were in keeping with the spirit.
Three days ago we convoyed down to another FOB called Waza Khwa. There is very little around here as far as towns, people, plants, animals, or anything but flatland (with the ever-present mountains in the distance) and rocks. It is even more desolate here than it was at Khayr Kot.
On the road down, we passed a newly built schoolhouse. It was well built, brightly painted, and desperately empty. Nobody was anywhere near the building. I asked about it to one of the teammates who had been here for awhile, and his reply was that the school was not yet open. Unfortunately, for most of the population in such rural areas, school is not at all a priority. Most the population is illiterate. When most of your energy is spent day to day trying to find the next day’s food, the benefits of education seem unfathomable, so most children in the region spend their day working or foraging for their family. In this region, there are no engineers or lawyers or architects or agronomists or doctors or dentists or nurses or even schoolteachers. Even a simple mechanic is hard to find.
Schoolteachers especially are at risk in this region. 61 of them have been killed to date by Taliban. Many qualified Afghans are afraid to try to teach - they receive death threats for not teaching what the Taliban approves of as curriculum. The Taliban also prohibits the teaching of girls.
I wasn’t sure if the new school building had a teacher or not, but it was an unfortunate reminder of the condition of this part of the country.
Waza Khwa is a fairly large compound, with a large helicopter landing field. “Birds” fly in here because it is a fuel resupply point - there are large fuel tanks for aircraft. On the day we arrived, two Chinooks landed, dropped off some mail, refueled and took off. But when the weather is bad (which is frequent this time of year), the “birds” are grounded. When the birds are grounded, much Army activity stops, because the aircraft are our needed MEDEVAC and close air support in case of emergency.
While Waza Khwa has a good deal of supplies available, it is more Spartan as far as living conditions. For one thing, there are not flush toilets here! We have what the Army unofficially call burn shitters and piss tubes. Burn shitters are outhouses built in a row, with removable tubs to collect the daily dumps of all the Soldiers (I.e., all the defecations we put into them). They’re called burn shitters because every day, someone takes the tubs out from underneath the commodes, takes them to a burn site, pours diesel fuel all over the refuse in the tub, and burns the shit! I’m not sure what the polite term for these latrines might be called (other than latrine), but everyone in the Army seems to call them by this name.
Piss tubes, on the other hand, are for males only. The tube part is named for the 6” diameter PVC pipe shoved into the ground at a 45 degree angle, standing about 2 feet above the ground, going down into the ground another several feet. Male Soldiers urinate into these, hence the term piss tubes. Instead of having men urinate just anywhere, these tubes are placed away from our living quarters and drain into the ground. There is a large privacy screen around the location, so other people can’t watch you pee (unless they come in and stand next to you, in which case you can talk to them while you both take a leak).
Our Internet connection here seems to go out frequently, too, and the satellite VoIP phone for everyone here doesn’t work very well. (The other night, I waited for 45 minutes to have a conversation with my wife and kids I could barely hear.) But at least we have some contact with the world back home on some limited basis. Where we are going next we will have no Internet at all while we are there.
Waza Khwa is a stop-over for us until we move to our next destination, a FOB close to the Pakistan border. There we will work with the Afghan Border Police to train and mentor them. The ABP is somewhat similar to the US Border Patrol, except they use automatic weapons, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs). They are more like a SWAT team than a regular police force, and we will train them in standard Army infantry tactics. The ABP have been victims of Taliban attacks, including bombings and sniper fire, so our mission is to help them withstand these. The other part of this mission is to help the ABP be more effective when they raid suspected Taliban holdouts in towns and mountains.
As we traveled towards Waza Khwa, I was told that Osama bin Laden hid in the caves inside the foothills along the route we took. I heard of how the Soviet Army was slaughtered in Waza Khwa by the Afghan mujahadeen when they were occupying Afghanistan. The difference between the Soviets and us is the Soviets were bent on making the Afghan people submit to their will. We are here more to help them establish their own rules against criminal elements inside and outside their country. Our fate should be the opposite of the Soviet army - instead of being slaughtered, we will ultimately help the Afghan people vanquish those who would oppress them.
There is no doubt in my mind that the Taliban want to slaughter us, and view us just like they viewed the Soviet army. But the Taliban are misguided and wrong. The people do not want the Taliban to succeed. They want us to help them. And we will.
If you want to talk with someone in person, please feel free to call 212-864-5436
The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and
Executive Director of CrossCurrents.
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here. God and Science (Hypertext Edition,
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion: Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).
Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.