The MP unit has left, and we are the only FOB defense force here. If the Taliban were more interested in making trouble in Doa China, our position would be ridiculous. We benefit from the fact that this region is stable, and the Taliban appear either unable or unwilling to creat conflict.
That said, our FOB duties continue: fueling the generator, pumping water daily, cooking our food, working with the ABP, and taking turns on guard in the towers. There is little time for anything else.
Today part of our team took a group of ABP on a patrol up one of the nearby mountain ridges. It’s important to see our FOB as the enemy may see it, from up high in the distance. It took all afternoon, and the US soldiers tired from the body armor, hiking up the hills. There were goatherders and sheepherders along the hills, along with some Koochies.
The Koochies are nomadic clans who travel through the area on foot, donkey or camel, carrying their tents with them on camelback. Their dress is distinctive; their women do not wear the traditional Afghan burqa, but wear headscarves and colorful dresses. Like other Afghan women, they carry things on their heads, like bags of rice or water jugs.
The patrol stopped by the tents of some Koochies who had pitched their tents some distance from our FOB. The elder of the clan invited them to have tea, a tradition of hospitality throughout Afghanistan. The soldiers were surprised to have their tea served on nice china cups and saucers. It was a friendly meeting. The next day, the Koochies were gone, on their way to another location to graze their herds. More Koochie tents would take their place.
Much of our initial mission has already been completed: we have logged information about most of the police force here, and have completed our assessment of the FOB. There are a lot of improvements needed besides sanitation - the physical security elements of our FOB need an upgrade. There are problems with parts of the concertina wire, the front gate is broken, and there are ample places for an enemy to hide from view of our towers. These are noted for our next trip down, whenever that occurs.
A unit arrived with a data device to update our radio to the current encryption level, solving our commo dilemma. It has been the better part of a week we have been operating at a variance with most of the Army. But at least now the problem is solved, for this week. Next week we will need another update, and will need someone to bring it.
Easter is coming, and it looks like we will have to celebrate it here, by ourselves, without a chaplain. I am sadly resigned to this probability, but remain hopeful we will be replaced by another unit, as we were promised when we started this assignment. Our mission as a unit is not to provide FOB security, it is to train and mentor the Afghans. We have precious little time to do this mission, and FOB security properly belongs elsewhere. FOB security was to be a stopgap measure by us to help solve a manpower shortage temporarily. When our replacements arrive, we will go back to Waza Khwa, regroup, resupply, recuperate, and plan our next step towards training and improving the ABP.
The ABP are less military and a little less disciplined than their ANA counterparts. They often wear civilian clothes, sometimes intermingled with their uniforms. They are a bit more relaxed, a bit less professional, but not less concerned - they take the security of the region pretty seriously. They carry rifles with them everywhere, the same AK-47’s the ANA use. They also have automatic weapons on the towers, which they occasionally fire to remind anyone in the area that we are prepared for a battle.
We have resorted to a bit of bluffing to give the impression we are a much bigger force to attack than we are. Foot patrols, night firing, flares, and night patrols by the BP are coordinated to create the impression that we are a “hard target” - one that will be difficult to acquire by force. While these reminders may be unsettling at times to the local population, it also keeps them secure, and hopefully keeps any terrorists at bay. So far, our ruses are working well - all has been quiet, fortunately.
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.