After all the information had been briefed to Karl, he deemed “the risks were not associated with me”, and that he was determined to see the farm, see the children’s school, and attend the ribbon cutting ceremony. The location was surprisingly a far more picturesque scene than the derelict junktown of Kabul. Imposing tall mountains, scattered with green foliage and what appeared to be clean air. A refreshing departure from the malodorous lead, cadmium and mercury-laced atmosphere, with that 30% splash of fecal matter. Our motorcade had grown significantly in size with Army MRAP’s and the accompaniment of ANA troops. These local attachments were one of the conditions set forth by the base commander for us to depart on this mission.
Karl hated any US military/PMC presence , or their accompanying weaponry, and would always make the comment “this sets our mission back by the Afghans seeing your guns, this sets the mission back.” This did not apply if it was Afghan; then he was perfectly fine with it, and would happily smile and wave as a kid would at a trucker trying to get him to toot his horn. But although his fondness for armed Afghans was endearing and strong, on this day—Karl was dismayed. Scores of ANA troops; AK-47s slung to them. . . or haphazardly carrying it by the barrel. . . or by the handle with their fingers gingerly toying with the trigger and flagging everyone around them, along with the belt-fed RPKs, and the soviet success .50 caliber “Dishka”, or “Shitty-Cal”, on top of their vehicles.
Karl no understood irony. This was a bitter pill to swallow, vastly different from his originally proposed idea—him and his unfortunate RSO leading the motorcade in a green, FOB only… John Deere Gator.
The first venue was the farm about 1 kilometer outside the FOB. Small plant-green houses, little patches of vegetables and a small, typical Afghan, concrete structure. A mortar unit back at the FOB was firing on a hill adjacent to us in a display of force for the would-be attackers. Done, and without a hitch, we moved on to the next event.
The second venue was the school house roughly a half-kilometer away from the farm. The MRAP’s had “wagon wheeled” around the school and afforded more cover and fire support with their mounted M2 .50 cals. The ANA punched out a few yards to provide more bait—I mean dispersion. Inside the schoolyard were several Afghan children, very excited about the big procession and Americans there to see their school; eager to show off their backpacks or say the few words of English they knew.
It was here when the Taliban attack kicked off.
From the opposite direction, a series of RPG’s and small arms fire blasted on the point of our convoy which was the ANA support. They were immediately engaged. We were actually in a good area, oddly enough, because schools in Afghanistan usually had a concrete wall surrounding them, and the inner building that we were in was solid concrete as well. This was inconvenient for the screaming orphan children who had to evacuate while all of this was going on, but luckily we had a decent-sized contingent of US Army with us who managed to get them out of harm’s way.
Like a frightened horse, Karl bolts from our protective circle at the sound of the small arms fire and incoming mortars; pushing one of our detail members aside and almost knocking over his equally frightened wife. This would have been an issue if he had not lost his footing in those expensive penny loafers, face-planting onto the concrete slab below. We recovered and hard-pointed Karl in a safe spot immediately. We had a remote monitor that we used to notify everyone important in DC, the Embassy and our base of the attack and of course the radios began to bark requests of SITREPs from the TOC inquiring about what was going on with increasing urgency.
With the Ambo secured inside a hard point with immediate guards in the school, the rest of us, along with our advance team, were outside; excited at possibly engaging with the Taliban. The excitement was stifled by the obvious fact that our M4’s were out of range and the MRAP’s had full long range coverage with their M2’s and, well . . . the ANA were soaking up all of the assault. Plus we couldn’t directly see the enemy who had decent cover in the mountain side to launch this attack. Just ricochets, small explosions and errant RPG’s flying from the ANA’s position. So sad frowny faces for everyone.
“I fucking told him! I fucking told him! Fine, Sergeant get up here with comms!” yelled General Hood, standing outside with us, furious and cursing. Close air support arrived quickly. Two F-16’s scattering the assault while another sergeant ran a fire mission from the mortar teams back on base. It is impressive to see a military General such as Hood, unafraid, standing side-by-side with us during this side-show circus of a hearts and minds, and taking the effective action given.
During the lull we evacuated everyone into the MRAP’s and proceeded back to the FOB, the occasional gun fire broke out, but sporadic and short-lived. Inside we were laughing at the absurdity of it all when the interrogative statement passed on from Karl broke all levity. Would we be proceeding to the third venue, which was past the point of our attack, to the ribbon cutting ceremony? The advance shift leader let out a groan and buried his head in his hands while we quizzically looked at each other, wondering if this was actually happening. Then—erupted in laughter. No. Karl. No. No. We will not be proceeding to the next venue you will be going back to the Embassy, Karl.
Back on the FOB, during the AAR meeting, Karl was petulantly vexed that he couldn’t proceed to the third venue. This nearly caused a career-ending altercation from a rightfully-irate Army lieutenant. This officer had to deal with two wounded soldiers and seven dead ANA. Karl would have been done for, for sure, if it had not been for our guys and members of the lieutenant’s own staff wrestling him to the ground.
This oblivious blundering in combat zones by DoS officials was typical, and was certainly not exhibited only by the Ambassador. It was almost a rule. Routine. Expected. Yet there was always this misplaced sense of accomplishment after the mission with them, but nothing of lasting quality was accomplished, nor will anything substantial be accomplished over there. It’s not that they were wrong for wanting to help, it’s that they wanted to do “something” only so that they could say “Oh look what I did. Look how charitable I am” with no concern about actions being ineffective or worse yet, harmful. It’s a very brief hazardous duty posting to list on their resume that will provide them with memories of fun times at NGO bars and mingling with foreign indigenous peoples, occasionally doing something that had the air of diplomacy. Democracy in that complex tribal system is a joke and a farce, just ask the average Afghan what he thinks about the voting process.
It’s as if the power generators there run on bribes. The US has made the same mistake it made in Vietnam and Iraq and in Afghanistan. Corrupting every official from top to bottom with its munificence; foolishly assuming that money will just solve all the world’s problems and they will simply roll over and adopt American democracy. . . and that they will love us for it. However you cannot buy an Afghans loyalty, only rent it, and they know that all they have to do is wait us out until another US election and there will be a new money faucet. They also know that the American public will get tired of hearing about Afghanistan or Iraq. They will yawn laboriously whilst sipping their mocha latte at the mall, dizzy from the diabetic inducing glucose rush of caramel whipped non-fat creamer, and recovering from the onslaught of some Labor Day Weekend sale-a-thon. The caffeine will eventually kick in and they will take to social media to proselytize their outrage over the vicarious violence “over there.” The social buzz, which in numbers, will effect rabid vote-hoarding politicians, which in turn will affect congressional policy… and we will leave.
This of course will result in that failed state eating itself while it circles the drain. As if the handshakes, cheek-kissing and let’s not forget, the massive sums of American dollars that were passed off with a complete lack of accountability, along with the appalling loss of American life; was really going to make a concerted effort towards building a better third world war-zone. As if that money was really going to be put into building a school for orphans, not funding the supposed Minister of Education and his immediate family an all-expense paid trip to Dubai. Even Butterfingers Karzai had an inability to keep track of triple digit million dollar brief cases; funding his local, rolling clown-show private army, making backdoor deals with radical militants and local drug warlords. He would operate with impunity and no one at the Embassy, none of them, would hold him accountable for it. But we will have drunken parties back at the embassy congratulating each other on a job well done.