But, They Are Our Allies

I confirmed our position on the map by cross checking the GPS coordinates, with my map and the local terrain.  My small dismounted patrol of 10 Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers and fellow American Embedded Tactical Trainer (ETT) were walking along the Afghan-Pakistan border, greeting locals and just trying to be neighborly – while at the same time gleaming them for information about recent enemy movement along the border of Paktika Province.

While on the way to the first locals compound we spotted a Pakistan Military (PAKMIL) soldier leading a supply donkey towards a PAKMIL observation post that we estimated to be approximately 800 meters from our position.  My patrol hollered hello and waved to this PAKMIL soldier and in returned he just stopped and stared at us, then continued along his way.  Not thinking much about this cross-border snub, we turned and started a conversation with the compound’s owner and his family.  Although the owner and his younger sons were appearing to be pleasant enough to chat with us, they didn’t offer any chai (nor any information on bad guys as according to them “We’ve never heard of the Taliban or Al Qaeda in our area.”). 

 The SOP that I developed when trying to do a quick analysis on the friendliness of a family / village was the quicker you were offered to sit down and drink chai with them, the friendlier (typically) they are towards US and Coalition Forces.  If the conversation went over 5 minutes and still weren’t offered chai, they are closely connected to the bad guys one way or another.   My ANA and interpreter (Terp) decided they were finished with this family and wanted to move to the next compound which was approximately 100 meters away from our current location in the direction of the Pakistan border.   Remembering our position on the map I knew we had at least 300 meters to the border (which of course isn’t clearly marked out on the ground).  As we approached this compound, its occupants came outside to meet us with smiles and handshakes. 

All of a sudden we had the unmistakable sound of bullets snapping over our heads and kicking up the ground from which we just walked over.  Running for cover I told my Terp to tell the family to go back inside and for everyone else to get to the back of this compound.  After doing a quick head count and making sure everyone was OK, my Terp turns to me and says “The PAKMIL are shooting at us.”  I in turn responded with “I see that but they are our allies (this idea hasn’t been in my mind since that day).”  One of my ANA soldiers growled “Pakistan” and ran his thumb across his neck in a decapitating manner.  It was one of those pinch me, or am I making this crap up moments as this occurred within the first 30 days of my tour and I was still very green.

After collecting ourselves behind this compound, I decided to move us into the low ground and follow it to the next decent small hill in order to allow us to get eyes on the shooters while maintaining concealment.  Once we ascended the next hill and started to scan towards the PAKMIL observation post, the PAKMIL began to just fire randomly in our general direction across the border with their machine guns.  While calling this in back to Forward Operating Base (FOB) Tillman, we were instructed to break contact and follow the low ground back to the FOB.  Once back at the FOB we were informed that the PAKMIL wouldn’t pick up the radio or satellite phone that  we had established in order to improve cross border coordination.  However, the 10th MTN radio operators did intercept PAKMIL radio traffic from a different channel and monitored the PAKMIL saying the ANA are heading directly for us and they had to begin firing before the ANA were going to over run their positions. 

Over run their positions?  Are you kidding me?  Apparently shaking hands and talking with some local villagers can be easily confused with a direct assault upon the PAKMIL positions.  A few hours later the PAKMIL actually called us on the radio and were pretty adamant about having a meeting the following day to discuss this incident.  When we finally met, the PAKMIL officers casually brushed it aside by stating that we had wandered onto the backside of their machine gun firing range and we needed to be more careful and need to control the undisciplined ANA.  We were also blamed for not answering the radio when they had tried to call us during this incident.  WTF!?!  I couldn’t believe what I was hearing from these pompous buffoons and had to take some deep breaths before I said or did something I would regret.  I soon learned how to play this silly game with the PAKMIL officers as all you had to do was to deny everything, accuse them of a few things as they would have a list of a few things to accuse you of, smile, and to not let your temper flair up.  It was a great game of checkers with some smoke and mirrors.

Live free or die trying!

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