You think you know what “police” are? You think you have a handle on “fishing?” Welcome to Afghanistan.
The incident took place last Friday in the Doshi district of the northern province of Baghlan when policemen on the bank of a river fired a rocket-propelled grenade into the water.
“The rocket went astray and hit a place where children were playing, killing six and wounding two others,” the interior ministry said in a statement.
“Eight police personnel accused of misusing government weapons that killed these children have been arrested and handed over to military prosecutors for investigation,” it said.
Ahmad Jawid Basharat, a provincial spokesman, confirmed the incident and said the children were aged between 10 and 14.
“The police did not mean to kill the children, they were fishing, but the rocket went astray and hit the other side of the river where children were swimming in shallow water,” he said.
We did indeed participate in the fine Afghan sport of fishing with Dupont lures, and our experience may explain a little about what happened over there.
It came about this way: another element of our task force liberated a battered old man from captivity by a local “General” or warlord-let. (Afghan irregular ranks worked like this, whether amongst Taliban, Northern Alliance (remember them?) or “unaffiliated” local scratch teams: if you had more than one Joe who reported to you, you were a “Commander”, who expected to treat with a foreign Colonel on an equal basis; if you had even one “Commander” you were a “General.” We could tell a general to show up with all his men and he’d have 11 guys and 3,000 excuses). Anyway, this particular General explained why he and his 11 guys had taken this old geezer captive and were starving and beating him. He explained it to three of us. And we each got a different explanation. You don’t need to be an honor grad from I&E (interrogation & elicitation) to know that someone whose story has more sudden changes than a Neil Stephenson plot isn’t telling the truth. We never did determine why he had the guy captive, but the most probable reason was that the old guy was a loyalist of the deposed king and His Majesty’s National Islamic Front for Afghanistan, one of the three groups of the seven we supported in the 1980s that actually did lots of fighting, and the warlord was a Tajik, but one whose sympathies were with the extreme Islamists of the Pushtun parties and not with Massoud and Fahim’s Jamiat-i Islami. The Islamists and Royalists sometimes forgot they were supposed to be fighting the Communists in the 1980s, and the Taliban then (indeed, Yunis Khalis’s group, to which that warlord was pledged, would join the Taliban in armed opposition soon after these events).
So this guy was a servant of the King — quite literally. He was the fish- and game-keeper at the King’s mountain lodge, which had been nearby (it had been looted nearly to a nullity). And after he reported, through means we do not know, back to His Majesty, in his Italian exile, the monarch, through this loyal retainer, invited us to fish the King’s lake at Ajar.
It just so happens that we had some fly rods. An SF buddy from the Vietnam era had been a river guide in the Pacific Northwest (indeed, he was the one that told us the fishing was rumored to be good in Afghanistan). And he had connections with fishing-equipment manufacturer Sage. As we recall it, Sage gave him 10 fly-fishing outfits at cost, and he donated them to our team. The sergeant major thought it best to share them among the whole unit, so every ODA got a rod and reel or two.
Well, we hauled that kit and schlepped it over broken rocks and clear-cut forests, propelled by Black Hawk and Chinook and Mi-8 and HMMWV and Toyota Hilux and Altama desert boots, through the mud of the Central Asian steppes, through minefields, ruins of great antiquity, and across more jeezly rocks than the nightmares of 10,000 geologists, up mountains and down streambeds and gingerly around wheat and poppy fields, under the scowls of men whose respect we needed. We hauled it up switchbacks, across washouts and half-collapsed Soviet armored-vehicle-launched bridges and fully-collapsed Afghan bridges of rotting wood and rotten hemp rope. Each time we lightened load, the rod and reel stuck stubbbornly along. Because we were going to Fish The Streams of the Hindu Kush.
And the appointed day came. Our party was two SF guys, two CI agents, and an interpreter. But as we loaded up, the rod and reel was not in its storage place. Some rat bastard had lightfingered it, and nobody owned up. So we fished with Dupont lures — in our case, M67 frag grenades.
The M67 operates similarly to the John Wayne era pineapple grenade (technically, the Mk 2 in US service). It does have a safety clip as well as a pin, to keep you from landing in Kingdom Come if you have been unwise enough to straighten the pins. (Trust us: under fire, you will have the strength for your pull to straighten the pins). So the drill is, slip the clip, pull the pin, and either throw the grenade (and the last safety mechanism, the handle or “spoon”, will fly free), or release the spoon and count down a couple of seconds if you want to shorten the time between release and bang. You have four and one half seconds, give or take; it is our experience that people holding cooking grenades in their hands tend to count off faster than heretofore.
The M67 is loaded with Composition B explosive and has an internal fragmentation layer. It’s a powerful pack of trouble for human beings, and it made short work of a nice string of fish in the King’s lake.
The noise drew out kids — either because kids are curious, which is a fact, or because Afghan farmers consider kids expendable items, which is also a fact, and use them as human reconnaissance drones — droneless drones, if you will. Unvehicled manned systems, maybe. And the kids had great fun retrieving the fish for us — they just asked for a fish each for their families. We had a great deal of trouble convincing the kids that there was a limit to how soon you could go in the water after we chucked each grenade. Like kids everywhere, these young guys thought they were immortal, and we were worried lest we accidentally injure one.
They thought the whole idea was funny, as they leaped into the bitterly cold snowmelt-filled lake and brought back the fish, which we strung up. Each time, they’d ask “You will give us a fish for this, right? That’s the deal?”
Well, we looked at each other and didn’t have to say anything. We told the kids, sure, and as we grew close to being maxed out on DuPont fishing, one of the kids apparently thought we’d double-cross him, so he moved to double-cross us first — another venerable Afghan tradition. He grabbed the largest fish and ran off, laughing.
The remaining kids were mortified. (An Afghan may cut your throat over an imagined slight, and he will steal anything that’s not nailed down, if it belongs to some impersonal organization. But in our experience, he would not steal from you, personally). Maybe because they thought now we wouldn’t give them each a fish.
Of course, we didn’t. We gave them all the fish. And the village dined on fish that night, compliments of the US Army Special Forces, and His Majesty King Zahir Shah, Father of The Country.