Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Ministry of Interior and Other Driving Adventures

On Monday, December 18, 2006 (need the date for posterity) I was at the Ministry of Interior meeting with LTG Yarmand of the Afghan National Police (ANP). I believe he is the highest ranking police officer in the country. That in itself was one of those “I never thought I’d be having this experience” experiences.

The reason I was there is as follows: In August the ANA (Afghan National Army) got into an argument with the ANP. The ANA went back to their base and their commander told them to go back and take into custody the ANP they were arguing with. The ANA claim that the ANP was prohibiting them from performing their mission. Well when the ANA went back, as you can imagine, a huge argument took place. Some brilliant person pulled their weapon so more weapons were drawn and shots were fired. After the smoke cleared one of the ANP had been shot and killed. Of course the ANP were not happy about that and took 6 ANA soldiers into custody. I heard about this in my first week here in my first meeting with MG Mangal. Ever since then I’ve been working with the ANA to try and get them released.

About 3 weeks ago I was told that they had in fact been released and was pleased that the ANA were able to work out this issue. I had tried contacting US mentors to see if they could do anything but the guy I kept contacting never returned my e-mails. I’ve since learned that his military supervisor considers this guy to be one of the laziest, most worthless mentors around. Just my luck to have tried to get a hold of him.

Anyway I digress. Well two weeks ago Karim told me that the soldiers had in fact not been turned over the ANA as I’d been told. So I was back to square one in trying to help the ANA get the soldiers released.

When I was at Eggers for the conference one night there was a dinner for all the JAGs at Eggers. I met with the senior mentor to the ANP, CAPT Clancy, a Navy JAG. I told him about my problem and he said that he could arrange a meeting for me and Karim on Monday (Monday last) and we could take the problem right to the top of the food chain. Aren’t contacts great?

Well the meeting was set, me, CAPT Clancy, the JAGs from CTSC-A were there, CDR Rowe and LT Womble and Karim. CAPT Clancy introduced me to LTG Yarmand and asked me to explain why we were there. Since Karim had the full details I had him explain. You can imagine my surprise when he said that the soldiers had in fact been returned to the ANA several weeks earlier and that the only issue remaining was that the ANP had not returned the ANA weapons. I was quite surprised. Had I known that I don’t think I would have pushed to have the meeting.

LTG Yarmand listened to Karim and then proceeded to outline the concerns that the ANP had with this case. They felt that the commander who ordered the soldiers to go out and take custody of the ANP soldier was to blame for this whole incident and they wanted him investigated. He also expressed some concern over the state of the ANA military justice system. He acknowledged that they had a new system but made it known that he had concerns.

For 40 minutes or so we discussed the new ANA military justice system and promised that a fair investigation would take place and that after the investigation a fair court martial of the soldiers would happen. He finally seemed to agree with that. He then called his assistant and gave the order to have the weapons released back to the ANA so the meeting was a success after all.

Actually I hope that we were able to instill some confidence in LTG Yarmand. One of the next biggest hurdles we have to overcome is the distrust between the ANA and the ANP. We just learned that there is going to be a new task force set up here in country where mentors will be working with the ANP in all the Corps. This will be a first. I hope that it will be successful as there really needs to be a spirit of cooperation between the two agencies.

Being at the MOI compound was an interesting experience. Wherever I’ve been and interacted with the locals, it’s always been in a controlled environment. They’ve either been on a military base where they were searched before being allowed in or there’s been security watching out for us, like when we go on humanitarian visits. Well at the MOI there was none of that. It’s a public place and the public was there. People were lined up at various buildings, mingling, talking, looking at us. It was an interesting experience. I don’t see a lot of Afghan women but was able to observe them as we walked to our building. It’s not that they’re different from any other women, I just have virtually no interaction with Afghan women. It was also was a little disconcerting because there was no protection. Still though, I enjoyed “mingling” with the local population.

As we were walking out of the building, it was suggested that we drive up TV Hill and conduct tactical operations. CDR Rowe went to his vehicle, unlocked it and noticed that something had been left on and that the engine was dead. We had to push his vehicle to get it started. We made such a lovely scene, a bunch of military officers pushing a Toyota Land Cruiser through the parking lot in order to get it jump started.

But the excitement was only beginning.

As I backed out of my parking place and started to pull forward, we heard a loud bang and felt our vehicle rock up on its side. For the briefest moment I thought someone had thrown a bomb under a car but then realized we would be in smaller, bloodier pieces if that were the case. I then thought I had driven over a cement barrier but knew that wasn’t the case either as I was in the middle of the parking lot. That left me to wonder what I had driven over.

CAPT Clancy opened his door and said “don’t move, you’re over an open manhole.” I thought, “How could that be? I didn’t see an open manhole cover and I certainly didn’t step in an open manhole when we were pushing CDR Rowe’s vehicle.” Yes, that’s what I really said to myself!

As I got out and walked around the vehicle I saw that it wasn’t really a manhole cover but a square piece of sheet metal, about 3 feet square that had broken loose from the hinges holding it in place and had wedged itself up under the running board of the vehicle. I was afraid that the door wouldn’t close but LT Womble being the resourceful LT that she is, went over and stomped on the running board to get it out of the way of the door.

Since the metal did not extend past the edges of the hole (I have no idea how it stayed in place. When it was attached to the hinges it must have just barely extended over the edge of the hole.) we had to place it diagonally across the hole.

After I got across successfully, we went and told one of the guards. In typical Afghan style, he didn’t care.

Just as we were about to leave another car came rushing into the parking lot. We yelled out to be careful, as did the guard but the guy didn’t listen. He backed over the cover pretty fast and the cover popped up and he just about dumped his front tire in the hole. Now that would have been interesting.

I’ve already told you about our ascent up TV hill so as you can see my driving excitement was only beginning in the parking lot. But it was not to end with TV Hill.

After we got down the mountain, we had to get back to Eggers. By now it was late in the afternoon and we hit rush hour traffic. The terp took us through downtown Kabul. That was really cool. Not too many ETT’s get into downtown so I was really excited. I saw the brand new, huge mosque that is being built. It’s not being built by the government but by a private person. Someone has been very generous. It’s going to be absolutely beautiful. I saw historic buildings that the British built during their occupation of the country. I saw lots of markets and I saw a very modern department store. The ground floor was occupied by a large, modern jewelry store. It looked just like something you’d see at home. On the other floors were clothing and other retail stores. I was duly impressed and must admit, a little surprised to see something so modern amidst so much poverty.

The other thing I saw a lot of were cars. Our route took us past one of the largest outdoor bus stops. That meant traffic jam. We literally sat in traffic for an hour without moving. Realize that we were in vehicles that are not very tolerant of suicide bombers. I was completely blocked in; cars to my right and a raised median to my left that I would not have been able to get over even if I’d wanted.

The bus stop also meant lots of people in the street. Lots of people walking right past the vehicle I was sitting in. That hour spent just sitting there in downtown Kabul amidst all that traffic and people was the most scared I have ever been since I’ve been here. Had I been in one of our humvees I wouldn’t have given it a second thought but I wasn’t so I was on pins and needles the entire time.

I’m sure some of you are saying, “Why are you telling us this – your poor wife?” Well it’s what happened that afternoon. It was one of those experiences that I’m glad I went through – the drive through downtown Kabul, not the stuck in traffic part and because I’m prone to relating just about everything I do on this page, it’s here for you to read.

Would I do it again? Certainly not during rush hour! OK, I’m not sure I would do it again. I’ve been through downtown once and don’t need to do it again. So honey, don’t worry, I won’t be getting stuck in traffic any time soon.


Chris Church said...

Next thing you know, you will be helping all the top guys with their estate planning.

Anonymous said...

This is on the wrong story page but I can't figure out how to make a comment when there hasn't already been one made. Yes, I am extremely mechanically/computer challenged.

Thanks for your Christmas thoughts. Beautiful and inspirational from our prophet.

Bob, what's the time difference from you to us? I'm EST. Jacquie