Loya Paktia…

…is what Afghans call the region comprised of Khowst, Paktika, and Paktia provinces.  A rough isolated place even by Afghanistan standards, it has been ruled since forever by fierce Pashtuns of the Zadran tribe.  Loya Paktia is in the news and on my mind for two reasons.

First, today at the White House President Obama awarded the Medal of Honor to SFC Leroy Petry for unbelievable acts of bravery in action against insurgents in Paktia province in May 2008.  Among other things, SFC Petry continued to battle after being shot in both legs and having one hand blown off by a hand grenade. 

Yea.  Uh.  Respect.

SFC Petry was in a Ranger unit, and as the news reports indicate, earned the Medal of Honor on what is being termed a “rare daylight mission.”  It’s not giving away state secrets, then, to write that the Rangers worked mostly at night. 

Right.

Among the array of units in Afghanistan, the Rangers are damn near royalty.  Tough missions.  Important targets.  Missions where everyone’s shit has to be completely together and no weaklings venture.  The Rangers don’t intentionally inflict collateral damage and hurt innocent people, but they don’t worry too much about it either.  I know, because a big part of my job in Afghanistan was doing “consequence management” with the ANA the morning after the Rangers had seized a disloyal mullah or taken out a Taliban official, leaving behind a host of questions and, sometimes, bodies.

I’m not critical, I’m just trying to establish the context for what I want to say next.

Loya Paktia is also on my mind this week because I’ve just discovered an amazing blog called Captain Cat’s Diaries.  It’s not just the title—taken from poet Dylan Thomas’s play Under Milk Wood—that’s so great.  It’s the fact that the author documents, from the perspective of a wise, experienced observer, the political and cultural world of Loya Paktia before, during, and just after the time I too was there.  For someone like me, who had a glimpse of such things and has wondered about them endlessly, Captain Cat’s Diaries is a treasure trove of detail, explanation, and suggestiveness.

I actually met the blog author—Emilie Jelinek—while I was in Afghanistan.  During the run-up to the August 2009 elections, Emilie worked for the UN elections commission in Paktia and we chatted briefly at a planning meeting for that ill-fated stab at Western-style electoral politics.  I wish we had spoken more, just as I wish I had known about her blog then.  It’s so smart, particularly in ways that mine isn’t, and would have been so helpful.  Where I focus on soldiers and tactics, Emilie describes citizens and their social concerns.  Where I write about battles, Emilie writes of tribal rivalries.  While mine is populated almost solely by men, Emilie is endlessly alert to signs of the silent, hidden, vital life of Afghan women.

So here’s the link to the blog, and I hope you take time to examine it:

http://captaincat.typepad.com/captain_cats_diaries/

One caveat—Emilie is a firm critic of the type of the raids on which SFC Petry performed so heroically.  She thinks such missions breed ill-will and thus do more harm than good.  It’s a good point to consider, though ultimately I don’t agree.  But that’s OK.  All I’m trying to say here is that when the final history of Loya Paktia is written, it needs to include both SFC Petry’s and Emilie Jelinek’s stories.

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