LETTERS FROM AFGHANISTAN - Drama, but not much action, in 'Battle of Shinwar'

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The Monday afternoon sun produced a glare through the glass of my HMMWV as I sat behind the wheel waiting for something to evolve.

I was in the District of Shinwar, several kilometers south of the Shinwar District Center in Nangarhar Province. Out before me was an empty, dry plot of ground with several tents and a few hundred Afghan people sprawled out, some of whom were drinking chai on carpets that were laid upon the dirt floor.

I kept the engine running while our "Tajiman" (interpreter) hopped out to talk with some of the locals standing nearby.

Prior to spinning up what was to be the largest convoy I have ever been a part of (over 200 Afghan soldiers made up of 4 different Kandaks and the HHC of the ANA Brigade), I was in the midst of a course that was brought down from Kabul by the Minister of Defense G-2 Director of Policies.

New policies were being introduced to not only the brigade intelligence sections, but also the regional intelligence agencies across N2KL. The course was to be conducted three hours a day for three days. After the first day, I really had no desire to go back, but I did.

About midway through the second day of the course, I got a call from one of our senior NCOs telling me that some stuff was coming down the pipeline in the TOC and that the way things were shaping up, a trip to Shinwar was in the works.

I hurried back to our TOC to get a better feel for the situation. Two tribes in Shinwar were reported to be on the verge of a violent outbreak during a dispute over a piece of land.

Both tribes had moved people into the area, causing high tensions between the two factions. Col. Afzal, the 2nd Brigade Commander of the ANA, wanted to go down there to calm the situation. In a matter of 40 minutes, our trucks were spun up and ready to go. Once the ANA was all in line, we departed Jalalabad for Shinwar.

My foot had the pedal slammed to the floorboard as we raced toward Shinwar.

A little unsure of where exactly we were going, we followed the Afghan Army east toward Pakistan then south toward the snowcapped Tora Bora Mountains. About an hour and a half later, we pulled over to the side of the road next to a dirt strip of land, which happened to be the disputed area.

Col. Afzal jumped out of his truck and into another, speeding off to conduct a Shura with some of the tribal elders while we maintained security. At one point, we heard the ANA report over the radio that there were 1,000 guys on the other side of the hill armed and ready to fight. Whether there were really 1,000 fighters over the hill remains unknown; we never saw them.

The hours ticked away as we sat on the side of the road near the dirt strip. The sun began making its way over the horizon to the west before we finally heard about the progress of the Shura. An agreement was not reached over the dispute by nightfall, so we headed back for Jalalabad. The ANA was dispatched to maintain security the following day while other government officials got involved with trying to settle the dispute.

Those soldiers who were dispatched have yet to return to the Jalalabad Garrison as the tribal conflict still remains. Jokingly, our little team and some of the Marines who went down with us began referring to our role in the onset of the dispute as the "Battle of Shinwar", where Purple Hearts were given for bumping our heads on the side of the truck trying to stay awake.

While the land dispute continued in the south, operations around Jalalabad fell back to normal. Maj. Rahmdil, the 2nd Brigade S2, has been in Shinwar with the dispatched lot of soldiers all week.

His deputy, Capt. Shoaib, finally received a much-deserved promotion and a transfer to the 1st Brigade in Kabul. He is a smart, hardworking guy and I am convinced he will do well in his new job. Meanwhile, 2nd Brigade will suffer momentarily with his absence.

I spent the other night with some of the S2 shop NCOs who have kept the shop running with both Maj. Rahmdil and Capt. Shoaib gone. I brought them a few of the non-alcoholic beers from our dining facility, which has sort of become a weekly ritual.

I found myself, however, talking more with one of our interpreters, Ghani, more so than any of the others.

Ghani is an older gentleman who has experienced much of Afghanistan throughout its turbulent history. He drank chai in Kabul as missiles from the Soviets flew overhead toward Jalalabad in the 1980s, he was nearly thrown in jail for walking outside without a hat one morning on his way to work during the Taliban reign of the 1990s, and he walked around the mountains near Kalagush in southern Nuristan as an interpreter for the Americans following the attacks of 9/11.

His brothers all left the country for safer places, but he has remained here in Afghanistan. When I asked him why he didn't leave, his response was, "This is my country. I love my country."

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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