8. Casualty of War.
I saw this many times. I speculated through dialogue and imagined a plausible situation. How would it transpire? What would the outcome be? What are the other perspectives?
There are so many casualties in war. Perhaps the most damaged veterans are the one’s that didn’t even know they were in the fight.
It was a late March afternoon. The sun was beating down, searing the desert and the mud walled compounds that lay below. It was well above 40 degrees. The locals kept cool in the afternoon by carrying out light chores or resting in the heat. In some areas, local men were preparing the fields for the grape harvest. Others were tending to the poppies that would be ripe soon for the opium harvest. Some were repairing their compounds from the winter rains of January and February. Many irrigation fields had corner holes to allow water to fill from the Arghandhab. They had to be repaired but in the afternoon, very little activity occurred.
“How’s the POL?” I asked my first officer referring to his awareness of any life in the compounds below.
“Quiet today.” He answered as he looked around.
“Don’t see too much…too hot.” Snapshot, my right gunner, added.
I looked back and he had his camera up. Occasionally, he would see unique sites that few others had the eye to appreciate.
“I don’t know how the ladies in these compounds have beautiful blue gowns yet everything else is dusty brown and dirty.” He observed.
“Ya, interesting. How do they keep those shimmering clean?” I added noticing a woman with her child in the corner of a compound near a shaded area.
We zipped by about 75 feet above her as we crossed over Nakhoney towards the Adamz-eye chain of compounds that stretched from Salavat mountain to the Reg in the south. It was a narrow band of homes, but extremely tactical for the insurgents. They could easily attack the Canadian FOB in Nakhoney and egress through the mine-filled grape-fields to the wadiis and compounds west.
“There’s a man and a woman with a little boy.” Snapshot noticed.
“Unusual this time of day.” I answered.
Men were usually at the market selling produce or working in the fields. Regardless, it was rare to see them together in compounds. They seemed to be dialoguing. The child seemed to be stuck to the mother not like a child would behave near a father.
“Who knows? Keep your eye’s out…this place is crazy.” I added. But nothing would ‘likely’ happen today. The opium harvest was the most important action this month. Fighting us infidel’s would be secondary. The prime mission was to sell the drugs, raise money and then take up arms after harvest in May.
We proceeded west to SPER for an over-watch task ignoring the events below. It was just another day.
“Look at the helicopter.” The woman told her son as they worked in the yard. She had a way of keeping her clothes shimmering in the sunlit sky as she tended to her chores.
“Yes, will they hurt us?” The boy asked.
“No, look at them; they usually wave if they see you.” She added.
She was about 25 years old. She was taking care of her wifely duties inside her compound – her home – about 600 meters west of Nakhoney in the Adamz-eye chain of villages that stretched from HYENA through LAKE EFFECT to the Reg Desert. She stayed in her home and tended to the needs of her family. Together they tended to the yard until some weapons firing commenced in the east towards the Canadian base. She was used to this. It was nothing unusual; occurring almost daily; she knew the difference between the sound of an AK-47 and a C7 assault rifle. She recognized the AK47 shots. The fighting had been going on long in her country. She had heard tales from her parents about the Russian invasions some thirty years earlier. She had witnessed her own horrors and wondered if the fighting and the hatred would ever end. Now the Taliban, and the ANA and more foreigners were in her land.
“Stay close to that wall.” She pointed east knowing it was the safest part of the compound.
She interpreted these shots as a Taliban ambush against a Canadian or ANA patrol. It was no concern of hers. The bullets would not be going towards her. Even if they did, the walls were thick and bullets could not penetrate them. She was safe as long as she did her duties inside the walls. Her and her son continued to tend to their work.
A man ran into compound from the east.
“Move inside.” He commanded fiercely.
“You can not be in here…my husband is not home.” She said humbly with her eyes to the ground.
“I know where you husband is…be silent and do as I ask.” He firmly stated moving towards here.
She pulled up her bright blue burka and covered her face as per customs; she grabbed her son and pulled him inside the house within the compound.
The man moved in the corner of a compound door, he maintained a watch down the road as he spoke with her. He was well aware of the combat occurring between Taliban and Canadian troops. He scanned in all directions. He held a small cell phone and was talking in short concerned yet angry bursts into the phone.
“Bring the package. Bring the package now.” A faint but panicky voice stated over the phone in Pashtun.
She could hear. She knew. The Afghan mother protected her boy and curled up with him in the corner across the room in terror. She recognized him, but he was not family. He had arrived from Pakistan during the winter. He had been working with her husband in the opium fields. He was a buyer, a soldier, and an insurgent.
The young boys whimpered in a shallow cry and leaned into his mother. She stroked his head holding him tight; covering his ears as the man looked over to him. They rocked together worried of the situation.
“Tell that boy to be quiet. Allah demands it.” He hollered. He was perturbed at the whiney interruptions towards the sensitive phone call.
“Now?” the man asked in the phone looking at the boy.
The mother saw his eyes and pulled her boy tighter.
Gunshots continued to echo a few hundred meters to the east. Then helicopters started to arrive. The sounds of AK-47s shot and also shot back. An occasional bullet zinged overtop of the compound.
“I am trapped. The enemy is engaging from the north. I cannot get a clean shot at the Infidels. I need the package now.” The voice stated.
“No!” You cannot take him. No!” She argued. She held her son tightly. The boy started to cry.
He walked towards her angrily. “You insult me, your husband and Allah. Stop it.” He rose his hand threatening to strike.
She cried silently as tears fell down her face.
He grabbed the boy and pulled his arm. He started to whimper. The other hand holding the phone, which faintly but persistently continued demands.
“Yes, I am bringing the package.” The man answered into the phone looking directly at the woman.
The man took a deep breath and calmly kneeled down to the boy.
“Do not be afraid. It is time for you to become a man and stand up against the infidels and what they bring to the land.” He preached intently.
“This is a great noble task and Allah will protect you; you will be safe.” The man continued as the boy intently listened as he dried the tears from his cheeks. His mother went into a private room to hide her fearful tears.
“Allah will stop all the shooting when you go into the field of battle. You are special. All men will stop fighting. The man on the phone needs you. Allah will protect you.” He preached to convince the boy.
He pulled the boy out of the compound. The mother looked out from the shadows tears rolling down her face. The boy went limp with terror. The clenching grip of the man dragging him down the road towards the fire-fight. His face paralyzed and flushed of all emotion.
The helicopters buzzed above their heads as they walked towards a large grape-hut. He heard the bullets zipping above his head. Dust-splashes of bullets impacting the grape-huts a hundred yards ahead.
“I am bringing the package to you.” The man yelled into the phone.
The boy looked up to the helicopters. He saw the masked face of a door gunner looking directly towards him. He was aiming his weapon on the grape-hut. The boy knew the gun; it delivered the breath of Allah. The noise. The dust. The gunshots. The door gunner was not shooting yet but the boy could see him taking aim. He felt the painful squeeze of the man yanking him down the road forcing his numb legs to move. Numb with terror…