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July 2, 2009
Keeping a watchful eye in a bustling Afghan city

The Taliban has strongholds in southern Afghanistan.

On Thursday, U.S. Marines launched a major offensive in Afghanistan’s volatile Helmand Province, in an effort to root out Taliban forces in southern strongholds.

Worldfocus contributing blogger Anup Kaphle is embedded with British and Canadian forces in Afghanistan. He chronicles his experience on the “Dispatches from Afghanistan” blog, and describes the climate in the capital of Helmand Province earlier this week.

When the world was mourning the death of Michael Jackson, I was heading to Lashkar Gah in a British army convoy from Camp Bastion.

Suicide bombers often target the security forces in Lashkar Gah. So the soldiers warn every driver on the street to slow down with hand signals and fire “mini flares” into the air. If that doesn’t work, a warning gun shot follows.

Over the last couple of days, I’ve gotten a glimpse of this busy little city. Locals usually give a thumbs-up and a smile as the troops patrol the city. But there are the usual frowns and suspicious stares on the faces of some locals. A kid who was barely six-years old held his thumbs up for a second, then gradually shifted it downwards and stuck his tongue out at one of the soldiers. Another kid screamed and threw a pear at us while we were driving by. As simple as it is, not everyone seemed to adore their guests.

But the biggest problem in Lashkar Gah is not the inconspicuous hatred from a few little kids. It’s the dish that the Taliban serve full time – deadly attacks. Every day during patrol, we heard about Taliban running over one of the police posts and killing ANP members. Soldiers told me about suicide bombers who drove their white Toyota sedans and motorcycles into ISAF and ANP vehicles in the busy bazaar. As one soldier put it to me, “You take your eyes off for one minute, and sh** is bound to happen.”

Driving down a busy market, it is hard to tell which one among the hundreds is waiting to meet his virgins in heaven. The troops make sure every single vehicle comes to a halt until the convoy drives past them. Gunners on top of the Landrovers have their fingers ready on the trigger just in case someone makes a move.

Knowing that someone could run into you and blow himself up is a scary thought. But it is that very fear that keeps me standing with my camera, next to the gunner the entire duration of patrol.

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Photo courtesy of Flickr user wil- under a Creative Commons license.

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