Up Sabari Way

This Afghan battalion commander was one of our favorites. An IED blew up in his face in Sabari district, peppering him with shrapnel and nearly blinding him. A week later, he was out of the hospital and back in the fight.

New York Times A-team Afghanistan writer Eric Schmitt turned his attention this week to Sabari district, Khowst province.  In the linked article, the Times reports that Sabari remains under a total vice grip control of insurgents even after many years of effort by American and legitimate Afghan forces to dislodge them.  Recently, Haqqani clan militants beheaded ten Sabari residents in a show of force they assert they can repeat with impunity as often as they desire.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/29/world/asia/haqqani-militants-use-death-squads-in-afghanistan.html?_r=2&ref=world&pagewanted=all

So yea, things are bad up Sabari way.  No shit.  They were bad when I was there, too.

It was, for example, an absolute given in 2008-2009 that a trip through or into Sabari district would result in enemy contact.  Once, insurgents blew an IED in a culvert just in front of one of my team’s trucks.  No one was hurt, but the truck returned to Camp Clark with its flat surfaces covered with five-to-ten pound chunks of asphalt.  If the insurgents’ timing had been better, the truck and its occupants would have been toast.  The next time out, we detoured off the road to avoid the culvert.  Two feet off the hardball, the armored truck in front of me detonated a pressure-plate IED powerful enough to split the vehicle in two at the firewall between the engine and the troop compartment.  Thank God almighty the soldiers in the truck suffered only minor injuries, because the insurgents clearly had set a trap for us.

Those are two of a dozen or more stories that I could tell about Sabari, all of which speak to the intransigence of militant clan-based Muslim fundamentalism in Afghanistan.  It’s not hard to imagine how Sabari in the eyes of the Times writers and many of its readers (judging from the comments posted to the article) represents the hopelessness of our mission there.

Except… except… except….

Khowst City wasn’t Sabari.  Tani district elsewhere in Khowst province wasn’t Sabari.  Mondozayi district wasn’t Sabari.  Bak and Jaji Maydan districts, which you had to drive through Sabari to get to, weren’t Sabari, either.  There were other places in Khowst that were like Sabari, but most were not.  In the places that weren’t Sabari, you could drive and even walk around relatively safely.  You could find people who would speak with you, people who weren’t afraid to express their hopes for a progressive, Western-style pan-Afghan unity, people who organized themselves to fight back against the Haqqani clan and other enemies of the people and the state.  People who saw Sabari as an aberration, a horrifying blight on the good name of Afghanistan.

People who dreamed of a democratic, united Afghanistan and placed their faith in American and Afghan forces at great risk to their own lives and fortunes.  Knowing that those people and those places exist for me puts the dire portrait of Sabari painted by the Times in perspective.  It’s the truth, but not the whole truth, and not nothing but the truth.

UPDATE:  The link below takes you to a great story of a sniper team in action against IED emplacement cells in Sabari district.  The unit featured was in Khowst in 2011, two years after I left Afghanistan, but the article describes well cat-and-mouse games I was familiar with during my time there.

http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2011/09/army_sniper_kills_ie.php

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