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A letter from Kabul

Art Johnson

Fallen Comrade
Fallen Comrade
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Good day friends!

We have all had a busy time here in Kabul with many wonderful events taking place. First, the Constitutional Loya Jirga (hereinafter “CLJ”) was finally started on 13 December. Loya Jirga is Dari for “Grand Council”. We have another name for it; and it’s sort of cute actually, but there are too many little eyes reading this, so I will restrain myself. The CLJ was to start in the first week of September, but really late September, no October, but actually later in October so that people could travel, although it would be better in November, so lets start it on 02 December.

Right then, 5th of December it is, so lets get it rolling on the 10th, but alright, since everybody’s rockets are pointing at my little fiefdom, I suppose the 13th of December will have to do. Now, when do you suppose it will end? This is frankly like dealing with an elephant in labour, which has just had its tusks sharpened and its tail tied. It’s big, but it can move fast, and well, you really don’t know which end to prefer in the event of a tantrum. You want to get these people moving? Here is the best mental picture I can come up with - how good are you at herding cats?

Actually, we have a lot of guesswork in our everyday lives. Will they shoot at us to-day, or will they snub us in favour of CLJ delegates? Is it too cold for rockets? Hey, let’s switch to suicide bombs!!! Of course nobody is upset about a suicide bomber taking his own life, simply because a bomb can only go off once, and if you did not get whacked on the first boom, then all is well. Also, from the bombers perspective, it is not contrary to the penal code here (oh sure, let’s pretend there are laws) to behave like a stunned jackass in a public place. It’s when they take people with them that it is really terrible, awful actually. What business has any sociopath taking the lives of innocent people? Well, this makes everyone a little nervous, especially when the al-Quaeda has imported so many of them. I guess there was a sale on somewhere. Who knows? If you see the Pizza Pizza franchises in Toronto suddenly emptying of all of their employees, please send me a quick note, all right?

Her Excellency the Governor General visited with us yesterday. I am the first to admit, that when she was first announced as GG a few years ago, I was very disappointed, and felt especially puke-prone when it became obvious that John R. Saul would suddenly marry her and become “His Excellency”. But, she has I think been a very good Governor General, right up there with the late Ray Hnatyshyn, Rolly Michener and certainly Georges Vanier, all of whom were excellent people.

Compare them to the garbage that Trudeau and in his earlier days installed in order to mock the office. But in my own worm’s eye view, Mme Clarkson has really risen to the occasion, and her stock certainly went up in my eyes yesterday. There she was on arrival, in a 26-pound Kevlar, canvas and steel flak jacket, just like the rest of us. And she was just great with the troops. It would have been easy, normal, and expected of her to stay in Ottawa at this time of year, but she put herself in danger and discomfort to come and see us.


Do you think Comrade Schreyer, Frau Gauleiter Sauve or Romeo Le Blahhhh would have done that? Not on your life. Schreyer would have been petitioning to label us puppets of the US in every union hall in the country, Jeanne Sauve would have tried to force the Taliban to negotiate in French, and Le Blahhh would have been consulting the Internet to see whether the Afghanistan was made by Ford or General Motors.

But Her Excellency was . . . Excellent!!!! She certainly won the respect of all soldiers in our camp of 400 guys n’ gals. For the record, she is welcome anytime, and we are proud that she is our Commander in Chief. One of the genius aspects of the parliamentary system is that while all of the power lies with the politicians, all of the authority lays with the apolitical offices, including Governor General of Canada and the Lieutenants Governor of the provinces. Not that anyone knows that anymore. It is a wonderful system, because we don’t have to suffer the consequences of having our trashy politicians sully the highest offices of state.

Meanwhile in Afghanistan we are still dealing with a lot of very unstable situations, driven mostly by bizarre individuals who misinterpret the Quran and take great pleasure in behaving like cavemen. At least they are no longer executing women for the despicable crime of appearing without a burka in public. Maybe by 2007 we will even see “wet burka” contests in Kabul?

I am sure the political correctness office in National Defence HQ that will eventually read this will find a way to have me sent to the gulag for that last comment, since it would not “pass the Globe and Mail” test. Come over here and get me - I live in tent B8, Camp Warehouse.

Since we are on the topic of newspapers and media, I have been collecting several editions of the Kabul Times since my arrival, as well as the ISAF Mirror, both interesting sources of information and “news”. Well, we need to jazz these papers up a bit, but they are very interesting in their own way, and I would love to lock them up for thirty years and then look at them. The Kabul times is a very interesting example of a newspaper feeling itself along in a fledgling democracy. It is very interesting, and we all respect those who have the courage to write for it and the editor who has survived many death threats. Now THAT is the Globe and Mail test, got it boys?

I have finally had my chance at fame. I was on the air on 107.2 FM, the ISAF military radio station in Kabul, for an hour this past Sunday being a DJ. How sick is that???? My friend Nathan forced me into it, (that is the only explanation you are getting) and I had a riot. Pity the poor boys in the control booth. The German Army PsyOps guys run it, and I was determined to make my mark. Hey even Joseph Gobels must have been turning over in his grave. With delusions of “Lord Ha Ha” grandeur firmly taking hold of my psyche, I went into the control booth and had a good start. Then I mixed up two songs and completely miscued the second tune. My technician Alex (a German Army oberstaabsgefreiter - a rank between corporal and sergeant) was at first giggling and then doing a full blown Oktoberfest … “I’ve been drinking all day”… style laugh, and I was frustrated beyond all belief so I started to go berserk.


The swearing was still going on when a German Captain came running into the control room waving his arms, a panicked look contorting his normally controlled and disciplined Teutonic face. But Alex was laughing so hard that he could not reach the switch to disengage my microphone. I locked the door to my booth, and I was wearing a 9mm pistol with a fully loaded 13 round magazine too, so I got to stay just where I wanted! I finished off the hour, and walked back from the German section back to our camp, giggling and snickering the whole way back. I was met by a few troops who really enjoyed the show. On New Year’s Eve, the Brigade Sergeant Major (who is a prince of a man) grinned at me and said, “I like you better than that guy on TV.” - Rick Mercer!

A few days ago, I was in a German Army Sirkorsky CH-53 Sky Stallion (a very large troop helicopter) and took several photos. Actually the best is the video footage, which is too technically complicated for me to put on the Internet successfully. As a certified grade I class “A” techno-peasant, I am still in awe of automatic transmission. If it is not aircraft related or a spin cast fishing reel, I just “do what the Chinese, Japanese or Sanskrit instructions tell me”, which usually results in a “fit of pique” (an expression first applied to me in 1974 by Don S. during one of my outbursts about Trudeau in his art class at St. Andrew’s College). What fun we had!!! So, I took a few still photos during the flight as well as the video.

We were flying a reconnaissance (recce) mission with the ramp at the back open, which for those of you in the army is like the ramp on a C-130. You have to either be strapped in or wear a Swiss harness and a “rat tail” so that you are not sucked out and left behind for some farmer to use as fertilizer - or dinner. It is a very strenuous ride. The air is a constant freezing wind interrupted by the occasional jet blast that gusts in and out, the smell of freshly burnt JP-4 (jet fuel) wafting in and out on the heels of the blast. Since the rear ramp was lowered, I took the pictures through the gaping opening in the tail of our chopper as we flew through the mountains and over the plains of Afghanistan. Focus was a problem, and the heat from the exhaust of the jet engines causes a lot of “ripple” when you are looking out the back door. The result is that the photos in most cases are not very good, or clear, but I will try to send two lots, this E-mail, with a second and possibly a third one to follow. What is a Recce (pronounced “recky”) flight like here? What are the sights? I am even worse with words than I am with a camera, but here is my description of the trip.

First, remember where we are. This is Afghanistan; a country best understood when you look at its people. To understand the land you must understand the people, because people are a product at least in part, of their environment. Afghans are resilient, tribal, kind, vicious, welcoming, untrusting, proud, pitiful, hopeful, resentful and sometimes helpful people. Their pride is founded in their traditions, and is especially founded in their ability to survive their traditions. Money and power are inextricable. Weapons and power are inextricable. Foreign invaders, and even armies involved in security operations like us (NO, we are not peacekeepers - get it straight) often find out just what an Afghan really is at their own cost. Yet, the people have a very fine quality to them. In other words all things Afghan and all people who live here lend a complex but surprisingly complete meaning to concepts such as irony and paradox. In fact they can be the best hosts in the world, and among the most formidable foes. They like you, you live, they don’t like you, you fight. The terrain is much the same, all at once welcoming yet in the end forbidding.

In the space of 40 minutes flight from Camp Warehouse on the outskirts of Kabul to our first waypoint, we passed over villages whose inhabitants live, as did their ancestors in biblical times. Their homes are little more than shelters in dry dusty conditions where the construction is based on mud and straw. There are no roads to the nearest town where electricity and modern machinery might be found. In their domain, the donkeys labour, children play, women make homes, and the men farm or hunt. You can see a picture of one such place in this email.

Just a short hop away over the mountains are the snow covered valleys that are so isolated, that not even the great Soviet war machine could conquer them, yet Afghans live there. On the way we can see the ghost machines of Soviet BTR-70s and T-54 tanks standing still where they met their fate on mountain sides, turrets rusting in the sun, the BTR personnel carriers stripped down, the local farmers having gleaned the parts for their own interesting uses. To see the burned out armour of the mighty Soviet empire perched like still giants on little mountain roads is revealing. To see where the Soviet soldiers now reduced to ghosts had their last moments in this forbidden land, which conspires with its inhabitants to deny easy entry to any invader was sobering.

In the two hours our mission took, we flew over dry dusty fields at 100 feet and 120 knots, hugged mountain tops and dove hard, winding our way through valley at breakneck speed to avoid the possibility of being an easy target for surface to air missiles. Eighty minutes into the flight our defensive counter-measures activated and flares blew off the sides of our bird to distract heat-seeking missiles and mislead them into blowing up at a harmless range. Sometimes ground reflections activate the defensive systems or explosions below will fool the computer into misfiring. We saw no explosions, and no reflections, so we are not sure what we had that excited the radar. This meant evasive flying, including pulling a 2-G plus turn to the left in order to “jink”, or out-turn the missile. My 26-pound vest doubled in weight to about 60 pounds at the 2 Gs produced by a 60 degree banking turn, with a hard pull on the collective stick and a max up on the throttle. Everything else doubles in apparent weight of course, helmets, arms, legs, maps, even breakfast. Unfortunately for my friend form Turkey and another pal from Bulgaria, their bacon and eggs panicked and made the great struggle up the chimney. Poor lads; that is why they invented the nice little bags!

We hugged the mountaintops and dove straight down after punching over the top of the peak so that we could hide in the next valley. Hide? At a speed of 120 knots? Paradox again. Our wingman was right behind us and to the right, most of the time to provide cover fire and we swung back and forth pulling hard into 60 degree banks at times to avoid being just another prize for the silent, unmovable mountains. You will see this and more in the pictures I have attached and will send in the next email. I am sending them in batches as I do not want to jam your mailboxes, and I don’t know what your capacity is.


http://tinyurl.com/2nldl
 

PteCamp

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Thanx for the post Art! Very informative to whats going on with our soliders in Kabul.
 

Meridian

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beautiful photos.. please pass on the thanks, and a salute from all us canadians sittign comfy here at home...

makes me wanna run over there :) Then I saw the scorpions... hehe.

I ~love~ the sarcasm, and was suprised to see it from an officer. :) But then I realized he was probably infantry and it all fit.
 

Slim

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Please send them all our greetings and don‘t forget to say " Thank you" on all our behalf.
Slim
 
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mattoigta

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Good read - it was refreshing to see someone with first hand knowledge/experience of Afghanistan to speak their mind.
PS the Toronto Pizza Pizza comment was gold
 

Spr.Earl

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"The Danish Camp Viking. Look for Hagar the Horrible."

Art pass on that Hager is a Norwegian Viking not Danish.
That could cause a War amongst the two. ;)
 
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It was great to see pics of my buddy Short. I Really appreciate all the hard work you guys and gals are doing for the world. It WILL not be overlooked or forgotten. SGT Short? Must be an inside joke. If you read this say hi to jedi in afganistan Art. Thanx for an excellent post. Keep themm coming we love to hear the truth now and then. Boomer Toronto Scottish Regiment.
 
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