A few days ago I had the opportunity to visit my old stomping grounds in Kapisa, and stay at FOB Morales-Frazier, the scene of many adventures in Kapisa. It was surprising, pleasant, poignant, encouraging and disappointing all rolled up into one big ball. First, the FOB, which was still called a Firebase when I left, a step down from a FOB in the hierarchy of combat structures, has exploded. FOB Morales-Frazier, or M-F to the local military speakers, has now become home to hundreds. When SFC O, SSG Maniac and I arrived there in late May of 2007, this large area was occupied by a Special Forces ODA (Operational Detachment Alpha) and a light company of ANA and their ETT’s; a few dozen people. The entire compound, an area of approximately 400 x 600 meters, is full of tents, structures and vehicles. It is a small town of its own.
Amazed, I climbed the tower in what used to be the ODA compound and looked over the scene. I could easily see the original structures and the original Hesco boundaries of previous fiefdoms; the Special Forces, the compound that the SF referred to as the “overflow” compound, which those of us who suffered its privations called “GITFO” for “Git The Freak Out,” and what the few American Soldiers there now call “The Alamo;” the scene of O, the Maniac and my first good shelling.
The American Provincial Police Mentor Team (PMT-P) for Kapisa occupies structures that my group had built. What was built for us to use as a kitchen/chow hall has now been divided in half and is used for offices for the PMT-P and the PRT. The Hesco compound boundary has had a hole knocked out of it, allowing a pass-through to the French area beyond where French Soldiers and Marines live, for the most part, in tents. Many tents.
The erstwhile Special Forces compound has been partially opened up as well, and at one point I walked through the old front gate, now vestigial. This was the site where, for several weeks during our time there as the Bastard Children, O, Maniac and I had to wait for the precise time of chow in order to be permitted entrance to ODA 744’s compound so that we might share in their victuals… after most of them had eaten, of course. If we arrived a minute too early, the ODA’s hired Afghan guards would hold us in place until the appointed hour. We used to joke that we were like dogs waiting to be fed. I could still see the adhesive marks on the remnants of the gate where the ODA had posted their sign decreeing that we could have access only at those times.
I passed the place where O and I put my four ANP KIA in body bags on my worst day of the first tour. I thought about them for a moment. I can still see their torn bodies when I do think of them. I can still smell the scent of fresh death and torn bowels. I can still see the lifeless eyes, the shroud of death having emptied them of light, and the rendered parts. I remember my surgical-gloved hand resisting against the cloth of their clothing as I searched for identification. I remember the heartbreak of recognizing the young radio operator who had always been near me for over a month as we operated in The Valley from the picture on his ANP identification card. Suddenly I could see the resemblance to the grinning youth in the mask of death, eyes akimbo, missing the top of the skull. I remember seeing deeply into the young man’s head, brokenhearted and at the same time detached; a portion of my brain noting surprise at the small amount of brain matter remaining after what appeared to be a nearly surgical removal of the top rear of his skull. I found this stray, detached thought mildly shocking in its own right. How can one be so emotionally shredded and yet almost clinically detached at the same moment? I still find this dichotomy notable. The events, sensations, and even thoughts of those short hours remain embedded in my memory like few others in my life. They will never go away; and I do not wish them to.
Those men, and that place, are part of me now.
Kapisa is a part of me, and I am a tiny part of it. I am still there, the light of recognition in the eyes of ANP officers and soldiers who recognized me revealing that my time there is still a part of the individual histories of these men’s lives. They greeted me with enthusiasm, there being no doubt that the sign of deep friendship, the handshake followed by the hug with cheeks pressed, was to be exchanged. As others who did not know me looked on curiously, the ANP would explain that I had been in many fights with them. I recognized Dari words in the rapid explanations, “jang” (fight), “Afghanya,” “Tag Ab,” “Ala Say,” “bisyar khoobas” (very good.) I knew the general drift before our interpreter told me in English what the full interpretation was. I felt a deep sense of pride in having reached that level with the Afghan soldiers who I had mentored and operated with. I recall wondering if I would earn such respect from such men; men for whom the stripes on my uniform and the patch on my sleeve matter less than my actions on the dusty ground in the obscure valleys where Afghan life and death are to be found. They judge me on actions that few, if any, Americans were there to witness. Many asked also about others who had impacted them deeply; SFC O, LTC Cold, and SFC Pulvier. Absent were other names. It seems that Afghans have very little time for those who had no real regard for them. Certain things can’t be faked, regardless of the fairy tales told on forms. Some names are left for dead in the dusty past.
There were many such reunions, but none so deeply satisfying as seeing once more the constant thread in Kapisa since the time of LTC SFowski. Sam, the combat terp, dismounted from the MRAP when the team arrived at Bagram to retrieve us from that circus of fobbitry. (I will have an entire post about Bagram soon.) Seeing Sam again was like a bowl of ice cream on an Afghan summer day; so cool I couldn’t believe it. We inquired as to each other’s health, family and after old friends. Again, names were raised from what seems the long ago past, less than two years ago.
Our business at Kapisa was slightly less successful, mostly due to the changing of some leadership and the reluctance of the new leadership to really extend an effort regarding any new training. Excusing his lack of coordination with explanations about the elections and difficulties having to do with that, we were not provided access to the district and provincial leadership who could really drive new ways of organizing information. However, after seeing what we have to offer, I think that upon our return sometime in the future, we will find more cooperation.
Joshua Foust of Registan is in one of my old stomping grounds in Afghanistan this week. He’s apparently the guest of the French at the moment, experiencing the wonders of the Tag Ab Valley. Go over to his site and see how the place has changed. Unfortunately there are no pictures, but I almost lost my mind when he was talking about chatting with people that I know.
By the way, the District Sub-governor that he’s talked with is not the same one that I had my little chat with when we took one of the local Maliks into custody for tea-partying with the Taliban and possessing prohibited stuff, like Kalashnikov ammunition. That Wuliswahl was fired, and rightfully so, some time ago.
Anyway, Mr. Foust tells the tale of what it’s like to arrive in Tag Ab for the first time. I remember that feeling… but the first time I was there it was quite the Wild West. It sounds like the ink blot that we started is spreading. You know, even with the pessimistic stuff you hear about Afghanistan, there was and is tremendous progress being made in placees like Tag Ab, which was the nearest Taliban stronghold to Kabul. It was a place where coalition troops raided but never stayed. Now the ANA and their French compatriots are doing the deal there.
I had to call O about that tonight, and we talked for some time about how it was “back in the day” in Tag Ab. I think we both miss it a little.
Go read Registan. He’s also got some really good pictures of Parwan Province in an earlier post. If we’re lucky, maybe he’ll post some pictures of Tag Ab. Maybe he’ll even get up into the Panjshir and take some pictures there. I exchanged an email with Mr. Foust this evening and asked him to pass along a message to Colonel Jhala if he sees him. I hope he does. I miss that guy; he was one of the good ones.
Nostalgia. It really wasn’t that long ago.
I’m not usually a cut-and-paster, but this is some really good news. I’ve written before about Qari Nejat, one of the bad bad guys in the Tag Ab Valley which includes Nijrab, Tab Ab, and Ala Say Districts. While I’ve read with interest of the demise of some of the other bad guys in the valley, this one is truly special. Qari Nejat was particularly brutal. He’s credited with three beheadings that I know of.
The world is a better place without him. Trust me.
There was an added bonus; Khairullah Nezami was almost certainly involved in the IED attack that cost the lives of four of my ANP on September 10th, 2007; one of the worst single days I’ve had. Just shy of a year later, he’s dead. It’s a terrible thing to hope that another human being died in abject terror.
So, below is the full report. Tonight Qari Nejat is trading carving tips with Jeffrey Dahmer and taking art lessons from Hitler on how to paint roses on the walls of Hell.
Coalition Identifies Taliban Leaders Killed in Recent Strikes
American Forces Press Service
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, Sept. 4, 2008 – Coalition forces have positively identified five Taliban subcommanders killed during operations over the past month in Afghanistan’s Kapisa province.
Qari Nejat, along with four other enemy fighters, was killed during a coalition forces operation in the province’s Nijrab district Aug. 5. Officials said Nejat was a Taliban commander in the Tag Ab valley region, with ties to senior insurgent figures. He was implicated in the July 21 suicide bombing in the Tag Ab bazaar that injured six Afghan nationals, as well as the July 16 kidnapping of three Afghan National Police officers in Jalokhel. Nejat also was wanted in connection with the torturing and beheading of an Afghan citizen June 30.
Khairullah Nezami and Qari Ezmarai, along with four other Taliban operatives, were killed in the Tag Ab district on Aug. 23. Nezami was a known roadside bomb facilitator and also coordinated the movement of suicide bombers and foreign terrorists within the network. Ezmarai is believed to have helped foreign terrorists move into and around Afghanistan to conduct attacks for the Taliban.
Both militants were local Taliban commanders in the Tag Ab valley region of Kapisa. During the operation, the force also discovered multiple assault rifles and machine guns.
On Aug. 30, Ahmad Shah and Mullah Rohoullah were killed as coalition forces attempted to search a compound in the Nijrab district. As they approached the compound, they were met with small-arms and rocket-propelled-grenade fire. Coalition forces responded with precision air strikes, killing both Taliban leaders. Six other militants also were killed in the strikes.
Officials said both leaders were heavily involved in foreign terrorist facilitation and conducting numerous attacks against NATO and coalition forces, including a recent ambush on NATO forces on Aug. 18. They were known to facilitate the movement of weapons and foreign fighters into Afghanistan.
(From a Combined Joint Task Force 101 news release.)