Michael's Dispatches

Alcohol in Afghanistan

19 March 2012

There are reports that alcohol was involved in the Panjway 16.  There are also reports that alcohol was not involved.

Since 2005, I've only seen two Soldiers truly drunk on missions during about three years with combat troops.  Both were in Iraq.  One Soldier was enlisted, and the other was an officer not in the US military.  Both were absolutely drunk.

The American Soldier—there was a raid and an IED that night—told me that his wife would ship Vodka in mouthwash bottles and she added food coloring as disguise.  The officer was different; his military was allowed alcohol but not to get drunk.

Alcohol was readily available in Iraq through many sources.  Christians in Iraq often had liquor stores.  Muslims were not allowed to sell it, but many liked to drink, as did the Christians.  Some Iraqis complained about Christians fleeing neighborhoods because their liquor stores closed.

In Afghanistan, availability depends on the city.  Many of the Coalition partners have and sell alcohol on bases, such as the Italians.  The British have had a two-cans-per-week policy at times, but that depends on where they are.  At hardcore combat outposts, alcohol is verboten.  Lithuanians bring beer.  I’m told that French bring wine and that Germans bring beer, but that is secondhand.

The first two General Orders in Iraq and Afghanistan (for US troops) banned alcohol and pornography, but among the about 40 international partners in Afghanistan, most of the others don’t seem to give a hoot.  And so the close relationship between US troops and so many partners means that most everything remains on the table.  Troops trade stuff.

And this does not include the Department of State folks and all the rest, including civilian contractors.  Many of the various Embassies are replete with alcohol, which filters out to contractors and troops, at least in Kabul.

Alcohol is also available through “secret” phone numbers in Kabul.  Customers call the number and they deliver it like pizza, only they hide it in secret spaces in the car. There are many bars and restaurants downtown in Kabul, and many meetings occur in those.

Down in places like Nimroz (tiny US presence) along the Iran/Pakistan border, alcohol is strongly forbidden to sell but Afghans still buy it.  Some tribes will kill members if they are caught drinking.

But up in Jalalabad, not far from Pakistan, there was even a bar at a sort of hotel.  There was a pool where international women would sunbathe in bikinis.  An American captain got drunk there—he was caught later back on base and sent home from Afghanistan.  He was not on a combat mission but out for a night on the town.  He was a civil affairs guy who showed up with two Humvees and some buddies, all in uniform.  On the scale of things, this is rare, but from the position of a Military Police it might look epidemic.

Back in Iraq, in Baghdad, the British actually had a bar that Gurkhas would run.  It was just across the lake from the main headquarters.  I learned about it after being invited there for a meeting.

Further around the lake from the British bar, the Aussies had a pool.  Folks would say that the Aussies had a bar and that women sunbathed topless but I only saw it from a distance.  Elsewhere in Iraq and Afghanistan, Coalition women definitely sunbathed topless.  “Oh, but that will offend the locals!”  It’s kept hidden, but you’ve probably never seen people who love pornography more than some Iraqis and Afghans.  When our side supplied computers for Iraqis, they often became home and office porn centers.  When our people capture phones, the memories often are loaded with porn.

In Kabul, Afghans are not allowed into the Afghan-run bars for a couple of reasons, one of which being that they have a terrible reputation of going plum wild when they drink.  I recall an Afghan special forces officer coming to a meeting and the restaurant was not going to allow him in.  He pretty much threatened them right in front of me.  He never took the pistol off his hip but he scared them and they said okay.  Bottom line is that alcohol is there in Kabul and sold in Western restaurants.

Down in Kandahar, an entire shipping container of alcohol was confiscated.  The police who seized it started getting drunk.  Two Westerners were arrested and taken to jail in Kandahar City, but a hefty bribe got them out.

A source informed me about some officers who got drunk on FOB Pasab (before I was there), which is near Panjway, and flipped their SUV on base.  Months ago, someone sent photos of the SUV and some detailed reports.  (This was before 4-4 Cav got to Pasab.) I was told about a Scandinavian troop in Kabul who got drunk, climbed up on a roof and started firing a pistol into the air.

During the early part of the Afghanistan war, before I got there, Kabul was described as a wild-west sort of town with bars filled with heavily armed men and Chinese brothels.  There was at least one report of a Chinese brothel busted and the women shipped back to China.

All in all, Afghanistan is mostly dry for the US troops, but that depends on where they are and their will to imbibe.  They can make their own.

Bottom line is that there seems to be an information campaign unfolding whether the accused was drinking that night.  There is no doubt about availability.   In any case, if a drunken person accidentally kills someone while driving in the United States, that person might be charged with first-degree murder.  If a drunken person participates in the deliberate murder of sixteen unarmed people, many of them children, and is convicted and found sane, that person should face the death penalty.

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