Note: this article is the second of a three-part series. The first article has been published, and the final article will be published August 21st.
Alas, our red route was clear and no kills could be earned amidst the smoke and haze and funk that was Kabul. My attention then, unfortunately turned back to the New American Royalty, now demanding some other near-sighted idiocy.
In truth, DoS personnel were like oblivious hormonal teenagers in a stereotypical, summer horror film. Myopic and effusive, unable to possess any semblance of a survival skill when faced with overt danger. The route every intel source is screaming not to go down, you say? Oh well in that case, right this way my naive, doe-eyed detail of cultural affairs experts. If you will just follow me downstairs in the dark to the ominously cold and damp basement reeking of the sickly sweet smell of death, you may enjoy your Embassy planned luncheon with Leatherface as he gives you a tour of his prized Husqvarna chainsaws.
But I digress…
The reigning crown prince of this twitterpated diplomacy in Afghanistan, at the time, was Ambassador Karl Eikenberry. He was jokingly referred to as “Karl” or simply “Monday” because well, nobody likes a goddamn Monday.
In a grey suit and bearing a square face, compared to the local populace he was a towering individual. His head, well. . . it was as if a sculptor started out with a molded head made of clay then accidentally dropped it on the floor; compressing the neck, squinting the eyes, and pursing the lips. He was always swarmed by his sycophantic court of note-taking strap-hangers, barely keeping pace while furiously texting Embassy business on their Embassy issued—and Embassy routed through Iran, roshan mobile Blackberry’s—wheezing and sweating under their poorly fit, encumbering body armor in the heat of the day. Karl had a long, lumbering yet fast gate, humorously reminding me of an Ent from Lord of The Rings. Ol’ Karl refused to wear armor, “it sets our mission back for them to see me in armor, besides no one is trying to hurt me.” he said numerous times before mission in a smooth pompous tone.
Karl routinely ignored the threat reports just like everyone else, but in a bizarre swing of the pendulum he delighted in taking an unplanned stop to walk around aimlessly, dry humping the sights and “atmospherics” of an area whose favorite national pastime is cultivating suicide bombers and VBIED’s.
We would pass by a fruit stand and like some hyperactive child he would tug repeatedly at the locked door handle of the still moving LC trying to get out so he could peruse some cholera-flavored watermelon or potatoes, deliciously bathed with some gut-wrenching parasite. He was obsessed with produce in his favorite third-world home away from home, and after an impromptu limo stop to peruse some e-coli riddled squash, he would drone on about how it was all a sign that Afghanistan was turning around.
He should have been an imposing figure, but he wasn’t. The furthest thing from intimidating by his own design. He had a very focused and deliberate intent of being accessible and friendly to every local Afghan. His lack of body armor was no doubt replaced by a bulletproof, IED-defeating sense of accomplishment. After all, he was an ambassador of good will and smiles from America.
These moronic stops would, without fail, be in an area that we would have reports of routine threats against us, and during the middle of the day, when traffic was at its worst; making any evacuation a serious issue, and certainly guaranteeing civilian casualties, should contact break out. A fact also completely oblivious to him. One must realize, and those who are paying attention in this very violent country do, that the Afghans acknowledge strength and intimidation. This is a holdover from being invaded by every major power with a military since Alexander the Great. So unbeknownst to Karl, or anyone else in his diplomatic retinue from the Embassy, being intimidating is viewed as a strength and is regarded with respect, whereas smiles and capitulation is quite laughable to denizens of Afghanistan. The bigger, meaner dog rules, as per ancient SOP.
Karl was a consistently-inconsistent war tourist who would routinely venture into the worst regions to show that “Suhfeer American” was there to save the day. While on the surface it appeared to be acts of bravery, it reeked more of ego due to his disregard of credible warnings from people with extensive combat experience and time in country. People far more capable than him at operating and living in the region outside of the illusion of safety that the embassy provided. Karl would severely castigate subordinates if they painted the country in any light other than favorable; therefore threat assessments would be manufactured by people with a flowery wash.
All of these aforementioned characteristics, all of them, seemed to have culminated during one specific event.
A mission to a location along the Pakistani border, previously shot down by High Threat (and rightfully so) for being too risky to send the top US Ambassador into the area, was finally granted.
In Karl-esque overtones, the SITREP presented to us prior to the flyaway showed the danger level in the area along the border was less than zero—which was absurd. Anyone who had been paying attention to the news, or had paid a visit to the TOC to check out the region along the Paki border, could see that the area was far from sunshine and daisies.
We stepped off from the aging soviet Mi8 HIP in Nuristan to meet the advance party. We escorted Karl and his bright-red-scarf-wearing, sniper bait of a wife and their assorted groupies and fluffers to the security/intel briefing on the FOB. Our diplomatic mission of the day was to survey a farm, a school, and attend a ribbon cutting ceremony of some random Afghan building. Clearly, a mission of the highest priority. Major General Hood was in attendance and was visually perturbed at our field trip to the border. A tall and stoic man, yet jovial in demeanor, he fit the rank of “General.” He commanded respect, the kind of respect that was through action, not words. He appreciated our efforts for trying to manage, and somehow protect this goat rodeo that was taking place.
Talking with one of the Army Infantry Sergeants stationed there, we learned of a failed attack by the Taliban just a few weeks prior to our arrival on the 4th of July. A salty Navy JSOC Chief doing some intel-based role, had stopped to inquire as to exactly what we were doing there and exactly when we would be leaving. He had received information from his local sources, along with SIGINT and Satellite feeds, that the Taliban noticed our helicopter landing and decided to mobilize roughly 60 fighters to conduct an attack on the base around noon. Specifically he said, because we were there. Specifically, because word had gotten around that the US Ambassador would be arriving.
All but apparently Karl could feel it, something was about to happen….