Pollution, literal and figurative, besets nation


The air quality in Jalalabad City is terrible. Sometimes the smoke and the haze fill the sky to such an extent that it creates a visible ring around a full moon.

The stars certainly aren't as bright as they are up in the Pesh River Valley and it is not because of the glowing lights of the city. Every week my nostrils fill with a dark thin film after breathing in the air around here.

Earlier this past week, a suicide bomber devastated a nearby refugee camp and subsequently much of the population of Nangarhar Province.

An influential leader from Khogyani District, Haji Zaman, was the target of the suicide bomber on Monday.

So the stories go, Haji Zaman, during the Mujahedeen days of the 1980s, had been responsible for the death of up to 80 Russians in one day. He was at a Shura being held at the refugee camp when the suicide bomber blew himself. Along with Haji Zaman was a man by the name of Abdul Rahman Shams, the director of the Department of Refugees and Repatriation here in Nangarhar Province.

I had a meeting once with Shams back when we were trying to set up some humanitarian aid missions for the very refugee camp that the suicide bomber entered.

The last I heard he was in a coma at Bagram Airfield living through a breathing tube. The next day, a vehicle-borne IED was detonated targeting a convoy heading out of Jalalabad to investigate the suicide bombing incident. The result was the deaths of two local national kids who just happened to be in the wrong spot at the wrong time.

Several days later, Maj. Rahmdil, the 2nd Brigade ANA S2, told me that the ANA had captured a potential drug dealer down in Khogyani.

After hearing the story of how the ANA caught this guy, I had my suspicions as to whether the guy was actually involved with the drugs. Nevertheless, in the intelligence office of the 3rd Kandak, I saw the detainee with three large cans that were full of illegal narcotics.

I took the guy to a different office in order to get his biometric data recorded. When I walked him back to the intelligence office, the ANA soldiers were starting to weigh the small bags of refined opium on a little scale, using rocks as a counterbalance.

The 3rd Kandak executive officer was in the room and he said to me jokingly, "Look, I am a drug dealer now, how much opium do you want to buy?" Not missing a beat, I replied, "One hundred kilos." We both got a pretty good laugh.

Opium, derived from poppy, remains one of the many problems facing the Afghan people. South of Jalalabad, toward the Tora Boras, the eradication of poppy remains one of the large focuses.

My interpreter, following our interaction with the suspected drug dealer, asked me what the ANA was going to do with the guy. I told him that they would probably turn over the drugs and the detainee to the Afghan National Police and that more than likely the guy would be released because of the lack of evidence they had against him.

My interpreter then said, "The drugs, they are killing the Afghans, they can't just let him go."

The production of poppy and its subsequent byproduct of opium remains a significant piece to funding the insurgency and all the more reason for its eradication; yet, the drugs are like that black smog the forms the thin film in my nostrils, they linger amongst the Afghan population negatively effecting their health and their overall ability to move forward.

The week proved to be interesting, providing a different glance into the issues that keep us here.

The success of joint offensives in the southern provinces provides hope, but there are still lingering problems with the structure of this country and the insurgency we fight against, particularly in the northeast.

While last week I may have sounded negative toward the progress we are making, it is progress nonetheless and I think it is still critical that we are here trying to free these people from an otherwise oppressive alternative.

Winning the war, however, depends a lot more on simply killing the enemy.

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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