They Weren't Always Happy to See Me
Some of the 3/116th INF at Qarabaghi-Robat
I spent a fair amount of time accompanying the 3/116th INF's patrols in the area around Bagram, AF. Almost every time, the people were a mix of curious, glad and interested when they saw us. However, one of the three times I was frightened (trust me, I was often apprehensive, occasionally nervous) while in Afghanistan came when I went with a patrol to the village of Qarabaghi-Robat.
Our patrol had a local policeman along with us - and his behavior told me something was wrong from the get go. Normally, we would come to a village and the inevitable crowd would gather. We would then ask to see the village elder(s) and let them show us around, talk about what was going on in the area, etc. This time was different. Our policeman started suggesting that we wait outside the village, and he would go find the elder and bring him to us. When we told him that we had to go into the village, he became very agitated. He left to find someone while we waited where you see in the picture below.
Not happy to see Major John and friends...
The people that did gather around while we waited for the elder were not acting normal either - sullen, not talkative (a non-talkative Afghan from the Bagram area is truly alarming) and they made my interpreter nervous. The interpreter (a fellow from Kabul) told me that the people were not happy we were there - and they were making rather rude and crude remarks about us, and him as well.
Eventually the policeman returned and told us no elder or other representative of the village was around, and we should wait for them outside the village. Before I could think of something suitably sarcastic to say, the NCO leading the patrol said "you tell him we are going to look around, and he can wait somewhere else if he wants," to our interpreter. The policeman then did leave, much to my surprise. Also, the crowd had grown in size and surliness.
The NCO and I looked at each other, shrugged, and moved out. A group of men of the village followed us as me walked through the center of the village and turned down an alley. We had obviously gone someplace nobody wanted us to go by the villager's reaction. They were getting louder, and our interpreter mentioned they were starting to make threats.
When we go to the end of the alley, one of the soldiers told me he had walked over a hollow sounding patch of ground - and that when his platoon had been in the South of Afghanistan (near the Pakistan border), this was how many weapons caches were hidden. We stopped to check the spot out, borrowing a shovel from the propertyowner (he looked like he had just sucked an entire lemon). The covered over pit was full of garbage, and we figured it wasn't a weapons cache - but as we were giving the shovel back, the interpreter told us that "these people are crazy". I asked him why, he said that they were telling him how they were going to kill him, and then all of us. I quietly mentioned this to the NCO and we agreed it was time to leave Qarabaghi-Robat.
As we were leaving, the village elder suddenly appeared. He confined his conversation to asking for supplies and help with the local school. I was upset at first, but then had to admire the man. Here were his people threatening to kill us, and he wants school supplies...
We went back to Bagram AF and reported everything. Later, I had the leader of the area around that village, one Haji Sultan Qand (aka "Commander Qand") apologize on behalf of the people and promise to give them a swift kick up the backside. He said that someone had told the village that the Americans were coming to look through your houses (a particularly touchy subject with the Afghans - you would bring dishonor to them, see their women, etc.) and do all sorts of bad things. The enemy didn't just shoot rockets at us in Bagram, they also engaged in disinformation. If we had not kept our cool, or someone had as much as thrown something - the effort would have yielded great results for the enemy. I shudder at the thought of us having had to fight our way out of there.