19.10.2011 Age twenty-one
Moments away from breaking out of cover and into the five hundred meter stretch of open ground that divided us from hell on earth. We had dominated the ground in the west but we had no idea what ‘The Unknown East’ had in store for us.
I remember observing across the dried up wadi, five hundred meters of open ground which laid between us and ‘Loy Mandeh’, aka ‘The Unknown East’. At first, everything seemed normal or at least as normal as a war-torn country could be. However, breaking out from behind the cover of the high cornfields which concealed us and into an arrow-head formation towards the first two most southerly compounds of Loy Mandeh, set the scene for what was to come.
Patrolling across ‘no man’s land’ and towards the primary compounds of the village was like walking into an old western cowboy film. People ran off and out of sight, farmers dropped their pitchforks and darted for cover, doors slammed shut and peering eyes peeped out from cracks in the compound walls. A morning walk in the Afghan countryside had suddenly turned into a heated and tense patrol into the unknown.
Here is a letter I sent home to my family telling them of our first patrol in ‘The Unknown East’.
Dear mum and dad
Today we pushed northeast, approximately 1.7 kilometres to a village that we hadn’t been to before. On route to the village, there was no dicking (enemy scouting) at all, not even one enemy observer.
I soon discovered a track leading into the village and along this track for roughly one hundred meters laid a substantial amount of harvest poppy. From that point on, nothing seemed right, in fact, we were fairly unsettled by the atmospherics. The hairs on the back of my neck were continuously standing on end.
We hit the southerly outskirts of the village, but still, just like the whole route in, there was no one to be seen. It was a large village and yet there was no one around. We agreed it would probably be in our interest to keep moving, so we didn’t stick around for too long.
Pushing north whilst hand railing the western edge of this ghost town, we finally came across an Afghan local and you could see by the expressions on his face that he was really surprised to see us.
I asked the local national a series of questions through our interpreter and the answers he gave me were rather disconcerting. The old aged Afghan local replied with such answers like:
“I have no problem with the Taliban and the Taliban course me no harm”. “The Taliban live here and they are welcome”
I thought this to be extremely interesting…… but also concerning
We continued north for about two hundred meters to where we bumped into one particular dodgy afghan geezer, who was obviously s**ting himself, he was absolutely terrified. The young local Afghan gentleman was frantically telling us to stay away. So I said,
“no, you come here to me, I’m not going anywhere”.
It was obvious that this chap was absolutely terrified and I wanted to know why. What was he so concerned about, after all, we were there to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people and I didn’t want him to be afraid of us.
Shaking at the knees, he eventually gave in and approached us cautiously. I didn’t treat him as a threat as he was blatantly scared s**tless. I was curious as to why this chap was so afraid, which lead to me firing questions at him, however, during this time where I was trying to question him, he continued to look over his shoulder and it was very apparent that he just wanted to leave.
It’s very hard to distinguish who is who in Afghanistan, you can’t be sure as to who will take the next opportunity to kill you. Even to this day, I can’t be 100% certain that even this young afghan lad wasn’t Taliban. One thing was for sure, and that was that he did not feel comfortable talking with us.
I asked if he feared ISAF (International Security Assistance Forces) and he replied with, “ISAF are good however, the Taliban are watching us right now”.
ROGER! (Military acknowledgement).
This actually confirmed our suspicions of Taliban operating in the Loy Mandeh area
A few of the guys in our multiple (team) were observing unidentified individuals moving around in the tree-line to the north. I decided to search the guy so that the Taliban could see me doing so, and I told this frightened local bloke, “If the Taliban ask you questions, you must tell them that we thought you were Taliban”. This would hopefully prevent the poor guy from being beaten up or worse, executed by Terry (nickname for Taliban).
This was a good time to leave, therefore, we moved off in a westerly direction as quickly but as calmly as we possibly could. We made it back to the CP (Checkpoint) without coming into contact with any insurgency.
I think at the time we just wanted to probe Loy Mandeh as it was an unknown area to us, it wasn’t our intentions at that time to go diving into a firefight. Reconnaissance patrols would need to be conducted and more ground had to be covered. Just a small step at a time, and then we would start to dominate the ground and prevent Taliban activities. With all that said, we didn’t realise that in actual fact we were really poking a hornets nest.
I believe we need to get into this dodgy village in order to conduct some further searching.
End state – A very dodgy village in the northeast which may account for the various attacks from that direction.
It’s not until now, nearly six years on since operating in Afghanistan and reading back through these letters which I sent home from Helmand Province that I realise just how dangerous and unpredictable certain situations really were.
I believe being in these (bulls**t aside) scary and terrifying moments with each other is what formed that bond between me and the men of the multiple, and we still have that bond even to this day. I am more than confident that if a day came where I would need support for any reason, I would be able to call on these men for help. It is these sticky situations that we as soldiers experience that create a bond between veterans because we can relate to each other. This is why veterans understand veterans because we have all been through very similar experiences which are relatable.
To that end, I think as a veteran who is struggling with the transition from soldier to civilian, with my war story aside, the key thing to take away from this blog is that once a brotherhood is formed like this, then there will always be a brotherhood. If you feel you have no one to talk to and you are feeling alone, pick up the phone and get in touch with old military muckers and get talking. It has never been so easy to stay in touch with other veterans thanks to social media and mobile devices, so don’t allow yourself to suffer alone in silence.
I’d like to thank you for taking the time to read this week’s blog, I really do appreciate you investing your time into ‘Soldier to Civi’. I hope you enjoyed the read and that you was able to take something away from this article.
Hopefully, I will see you again next week.
Take care and get in touch