LETTERS FROM AFGHANISTAN - In Afghanistan, money drives action

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To cross the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, the people are required to have a passport on their person. If they don't have a passport for whatever reason, a bribe can be given. In this case, the police simply take the money, look the other way, and allow the entry.

Two Pakistani fuel truck drivers made their way into Afghanistan in such a way earlier this week. They made their way from Torkham Gate, which is the primary entrance from Pakistan into Nangarhar Province, through Jalalabad and just past the Darunta tunnel when they heard an explosion on the rear of their fuel tanker and subsequently lost half of their fuel.

The two gentlemen decided to drive a little further before abandoning their truck alongside the road in order to hop a ride to Kabul.

When the Afghan National Army found the truck alongside the road, they began questioning local villagers in order to determine where the drivers had gone. When the ANA found out the men were on their way to Kabul, they sped off to chase them down.

When they hit the town of Sarobi, which sits a little over halfway between Jalalabad and Kabul, they found the two Pakistani truck drivers. At once, they detained the men and started an investigation into the abandonment of the fuel truck and the hole that was in the back tank.

The ANA eventually delivered the two suspects to the Jalalabad Garrison where Maj. Rahmdil, the 2nd Brigade ANA S2, began his investigation into the matter.

The main questions at stake were, if there had really been an explosion, why didn't the fuel truck catch on fire and why did the suspects abandon their fuel truck on the side of the road; of primary concern was whether these guys were trying to target government forces.

When I heard the two suspects had arrived, I walked over toward Rahmdil's office. I saw a crowd of Afghan soldiers gathered around two gentlemen dressed in white "man-jammies." I heard Rahmdil say something to my interpreter.

I understand very little Dari, but I heard the word "Urdu" and figured that he was asking whether my tajiman spoke Urdu, the primary language in Pakistan. Fortunately, he did, so he found himself not only having to translate for me but for Rahmdil, who only speaks Pashtu and Dari.

As the investigation unfolded, the two drivers claimed they did not know where the explosion came from, nor why their truck had not caught on fire. The ANA had determined that it was not a bullet that had pierced the fuel tanker; it was difficult for them to make any determination as to what caused the hole, but they said that the appearance was that of an explosive placed on the tank.

Their reasons for abandoning the truck seemed suspect, as they claimed that they were going to Kabul to inform their foreman of the incident. Being as the truck was still operational and could have been driven to Kabul, there was definitely some questions as to what the two were actually up to.

The result of the investigation was inconclusive and we could not adequately determine what exactly happened. The drivers were foreigners, so the ANA ended up transferring the two individuals over to the Afghan National Police in Laghman Province for a further investigation.

The truth is, in this country, such an incident could have a variety of causes.

The root of it was probably related to money, as is the case a lot of the times with some of these people. They could have sold off part of their fuel in Jalalabad and conjured up an intricate story of a supposed "attack" on their fuel tanker in order to get the foreman to pay back the fuel that was "lost."

Or, they could have been telling the truth. They could have been the subject of an attack and somehow were able to avoid a disastrous fuel truck blaze; to me, this seemed rather unlikely.

The temperatures have been on the rise here in Jalalabad and the skies have been clear and blue. My time for leaving this country is quickly approaching.

While I will certainly miss some of the people here, I find myself ready to go. I can see how it would be easy to push the "complacency" button with all of the anticipation of leaving. Past events in this region, however, have taught me not to succumb to complacency.

First Lt. Andrew Plucker is deployed to Afghanistan. He is not an Army spokesman, and his updates from the field are written from his personal perspective as a soldier.

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