Michael's Dispatches

The AfterWar

8 December 2011

2011-09-10-202129cc10004-4 Cav on Mission in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan

The Soldiers were on a mission.  One day had become the next and they had moved into an Afghan family compound until the morning.  The moon crept along, shadows tracing arcs, the shine so strong it caused one to wonder if photosynthesis might still be occurring.  Tonight, in Florida, the mockingbirds would sing beautifully through the night, perched on the branches, searching for mates, as they do under such moons.

This was enemy territory.  Soldiers stood under a tree.   A dim headlamp splashed blood red under the leaves, creating a fleeting, accidental art.

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Steadiness for these photographs came from putting the camera on the ground, or on the mud chicken coop, or on the roof.  The camera’s dim red light appears bright from long exposure.  Normally, the light is hidden with thick tape to cover any signature.  Behind the compound walls, safe from enemy eyes, the tape is removed.  While the light burns, a moment in history is being captured.  When the light vanishes another memory is sealed.

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A handful of Soldiers stood at the walls while others slept.  Family homes are ensconced within strong, defensible fortifications.  When you fly far out over a desert, away from the villages, and look down and see a single home miles from any other, it will still be surrounded by walls.  For Afghans, there is no emergency 911 to call.  Every man must defend his own.

Afghanistan is the Mud Empire.  The Land of a Million Alamos, where East meets West, Old meets New, and where in many villages clocks are little more than spinning wheels.

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The Air Force JTACs and TACPs earn every penny of their checks.  Their job is crucial and clear.  They come on dangerous missions to coordinate air power.  In the west our jobs are specialized while villagers here mostly have no specialties.  They are farmers, and farmers around the world tend to be conservative people.  Farmers with wild ideas sooner or later will starve.

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There were raisins on the roof.  Afghan grapes and sun-dried raisins are of a special class.  In some areas the grapes seem average, but in others the grapes are so delicious and sweet that they seem almost noble.  These grapes bring out the art in fruit.

The famers here grow many crops, such as corn, sunflowers, marijuana, and poppy for opium.  Last week in Australia, a huge shipment of heroin mixed with raisins was seized.  It’s possible that some of those products came from this village.  For all of Australia’s efforts in blood and money to stabilize Afghanistan, they get drug smuggling in return.  The Australians say that heroin use is on the rise due in part to increased production in Afghanistan.

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This interesting little camera lens makes it appear that the camera is down in a well.

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The Air Force comms were established in the event air strikes would be needed, and finally one man has a smoke, safely out of view of the enemy.  Though we were out of view of the enemy, nowhere in this compound was safe from enemy fire.  Sometimes they lob grenades into the compounds, or fire RPGs or recoilless rifles.

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The minutes roll by.  Most everyone is asleep on the ground.  We are on the roof with the raisins and the drying stalks of opium poppy.

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