Saturday, October 28, 2006

Afghan Misunderstan

I'm a sucker for war reporting, so I really like Elizabeth Rubin's two-part article in the Times Magazine on Afghanistan. Part I saw her embedded with the Taliban; Part II with American troops. It's all sobering, saddening stuff: that country is screwed, in no small part because of this country. The best nugget in the two pieces was this anecdote from the second article:

I was among some two dozen American and Afghan soldiers from Task Force Warrior, an infantry battalion based in Zabul Province, just north of Kandahar. We trundled up a path fit for goats because the nearby riverbed was perfect for concealing improvised explosive devices, or I.E.D.’s. Soon enough, the truck keeled over into the riverbed anyway. To hoist it up, the wrecker had to crash through wheat fields, and within minutes a gray-bearded farmer appeared brandishing his stick. “Are you Afghan?” he shouted at Farooq, my interpreter. “I have 30 members in my family. Why did you destroy my wheat?” The old farmer then clasped my wrist with his ancient garden tool of a hand. “You Americans are all friends of Bush the persecutor. You see this area” — he swept his other arm in every direction — “these are all Taliban. But they don’t have power. As soon as we find power, I will kill all of you.”

Farooq tried to calm him, but the farmer was fixated on his crushed wheat stalks until he spotted First Sgt. Ruel Robbins, a red-cheeked, chest-first sort. Robbins looked the farmer over, then said, “Tell him I’m real sorry to drive over his wheat, but I had to ’cause my vehicle turned over.” The farmer eyed the sacks in the supply truck; Robbins gave him one of rice and two of flour.

The farmer watched us take off in a swirl of dust, and Specialist Melissa Elliot, who was driving our Humvee, said to Farooq: “We’re not trying to hurt them. We’re trying to protect their security. Why’d he get so upset with us? Is their wheat part of their religion or something?”

“It’s the food for his family, ma’am,” Farooq said patiently.

I can only shake my head.