Thursday, June 21, 2007

Increased Violence

If you’ve been watching the news or reading the paper you know of the increased violence we have experienced here in the last week or so. Some things may not have made every newscast or paper so let me just recap what’s been happening.

A week ago a 14-year old boy was run over and killed by a vehicle being driven by a KBR (Kellogg, Burton & Root) employee. KBR is the contractor who provides employees who cook, clean, maintain our physilities, etc. The boy was pulling a wheelbarrow on J-Bad road – that’s the main road that runs connects Kabul to Jalabad. Phoenix, KMTC and Blackhorse are all along J-Bad road. Anyway, as the first vehicle was passing the boy, he tripped and fell. He fell under the vehicle and the back tires ran over him, killing him. Because the road is so bumpy the driver didn’t even realize what had happened. The second vehicle in the convoy had to radio him to stop. It was a tragic and unfortunate accident.

Even though it was not an Army accident, the Army is attempting to pay the family a solatia payment. It’s basically a monetary gift apologizing for what happened. The interesting aspect of this incident is that the village elders have cautioned against paying the family too soon. Their fear is that this will cause other families to sacrifice their children by throwing them into our convoys in an attempt to get money from the U.S. Of course, we of a Western mindset, do not want to even consider that as a possibility but the local village elders believe that it is a real concern. What a truly sad statement about the poverty and value of life, if in fact it is true.

A few days later a bomb exploded in downtown Kabul, killing a busload (approximately 35) of Afghan National Police officers and recruits as well as injuring civilians. Some of our forces responded to assist and during the incident a soldier’s weapon was discharged, injuring one person and killing another. Of course it was a tragic and unfortunate accident. And it couldn’t have come at a worse time, following closely on the heels of the 14-year old boy.

As we read about the incident on-line, photos were shown of Afghans chanting anti-American slogans, punching the air in fury and other angry images. Of course I could understand their anger and frustration over the unfortunate injury and death but at the same time our office was frustrated and a little angry at both the people and the media. We were angry at the people because rather than chant their anti-Taliban slogans, they were chanting their anti-US ones. The Taliban had just exploded a bomb in Kabul killing so many people. We responded simply to assist. While that doesn’t negate our responsibility it still bothered us, me, what the response was.

And then we were mad at the media for portraying these photos and writing the story in that manner. I’m sure that the anti-American sentiment was real but small. After having been here for as long as I have and having interacted with enough of the locals I really feel like they want us to be here. So I felt like the media was exploiting an unfortunate situation, exploiting a minority of the population, to sensationalize a story. I’m sure that it would have been just as easy to find many people in the crowd would have expressed a positive American sentiment, but then that doesn’t make for sexy journalism.

The KMTC was rocketed the other night, several rockets slamming into the buildings there. Fortunately no one was injured but the message was clear. Then, the next night rockets flew over Camp Phoenix. I was actually awake at the time but didn’t realize exactly what it was. The rockets did not land within our compound but that doesn’t negate the fact that someone out there doesn’t like us. Needless to say I’m quite content to remain within the confines of Camp Phoenix for the next few weeks.

The violence continues almost on a daily basis across the country. It has the potential to be paralyzing but you can’t let it. We have a job to do and you have to believe that you’ve taken every precaution that you can and go out the gate hoping and praying for the best.

And then there have been the US deaths, four in the last week. One soldier was killed in an RPG attack and three others, along with their interpreter, were killed by a roadside bomb. During the 2006-2007 command there were eight deaths in the year. In the month that the new command has been here they have lost four soldiers. You can imagine the somber feeling that has been around the command for the last several days.

As the reports of the deaths came in my first thoughts were, “Is it someone I know? Is it someone from Utah?” When it wasn’t my next thought was “Thank goodness.” Of course I then felt guilty for being glad it wasn’t someone from our command. It goes without saying that I never want to see one of our service men or women injured, much less killed but it’s only natural to feel a sense of relief when it’s not someone connected to you. My heart goes out to the families of these soldiers. They were over here serving the Afghans, fulfilling an important mission but were called upon to pay the ultimate price. They are true heroes.

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