Michael's Dispatches

in the
Desert of Death

Some troops in Afghanistan go months without a shower.  Major Ryan O’Conner, XO of the 1-17th Infantry, now in Kandahar Province, said that during a previous tour his Soldiers fought half a year without so much as a dip in a creek.  Shortages of drinking water affected combat operations.

Karez in Kandahar Province, on the northern edge of the Dasht-i-Margo: the Desert of Death.

For centuries, Afghans have dug underground irrigation tunnels called karez.  The lines of craters in the photo above are shafts into a karez system.  The shafts, which can be hundreds of feet deep, are used to lift out soil and stone while digging a karez.  Karez can take years to build and are sometimes miles long.  They are described as intricate constructions, often built by teams for hire, using father-to-son knowledge passed down through the centuries.

Karez in Kandahar Province.

Thousands of handmade underground irrigation systems range from China, through Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, down to Africa, up to Europe and around to the Americas.

In Afghanistan, during many wars, such as with Alexander the Great, the British, the Soviets, and today, karez have been used to hide villagers, fighters and weapons, or to move without detection.

Karez remain important in Afghanistan.

More Karez.

Village on the northern edge of Dasht-i-Margo.

Soon this will be green.

(Red Horse Deployable Heavy Operations Repair Squadron Engineers)

FOB Frontenac, Kandahar Province.

Water logistics is a high hurdle for Afghans, invaders, liberators and social shapers. Even upon my flimsy, unvarnished plywood desk are three bottles of water with three different labels:

Bottle #1 is labeled “Kinley Clean & Clear Drinking Water: A Quality Product of The Coca-Cola Company.”

Bottle #2, “Cristal Quality Mineral Water” from “Afghanistan Beverage Industries Ltd. Kabul, Afghanistan.”

Bottle #3, “Masafi Pure natural mineral water from the foothills of the Masafi Mountains,” bottled in the U.A.E. and with a website, www.masafi.com.

The showers have signs that say things like:

Combat Showers Only
Limit, three minutes
How to take a combat shower
1) Turn on water
2)    Wet body
3)    Turn off shower
4)    Soap and scrub
5)    Turn on water
6)    Rinse off Soap
7)    Done

FOB Frontenac happens to be nearby the Dala reservoir, created by the Dala Dam, which was created by Americans a couple generations ago.  Unfortunately, most of the larger bases aren’t blessed with reservoirs.  At Frontenac, a local Afghan contractor is paid to take water from the lake reservoir—now gushing from snowmelt—and recharges the holding reservoir on base for the toilets and showers.

Drilling at Frontenac.

FOB Frontenac is a short helicopter leap from the international airport at Kandahar Airfield, where even 747s land.  Today, in just about the middle of Frontenac, a tall water-drilling rig with an American flag flapping in the noonday breeze signaled that someone was drilling for liquid for freedom.  Freedom from the incredible logistics nightmare.  (Or at least a little freedom.)

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