Kabul, Afghanistan -- The difference between life and death in the pursuit of international peacekeeping often comes down to nothing more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Tragically, that was the case for two American soldiers not far from my location yesterday afternoon.
I was being briefed on the training of Afghan National Police (ANA) at Gardez when I couldn't help notice a flurry of activity in the back of the room. A minute or two later the person in charge of the security detail accompanying me suddenly announced our armored-vehicle convoy would have to take an alternate, unplanned route to our next location. This was no drill, he said, and we needed to get under way immediately. (Earlier I was asked if I wanted to carry a weapon. My answer was an emphatic 'no!)
I later learned that four U.S. military personnel who were poised to exit Pol-E-Charki -- the main, maximum-security prison near the Afghan capital -- were attacked following a routine visit. They had stopped at one of several checkpoints just before leaving. An Afghan National Army solider took a few steps back, raised his rifle and fired into the vehicle. Strangely, it had no side armor and the windows were not bullet-resistant. A colonel and female army major were killed. Two other soldiers were seriously injured. They were based at Camp Eggers, the U.S.-led command that coordinates all of the training activities involving the Afghan army and police.
En route to Gardez, the convoy in which I was traveling had passed near the prison. My security escorts had only sketchy details, but as a precaution they were determined to avoid driving anywhere near the prison to reach our next location. Before climbing in, I was told to put on my bullet-proof vest. Sounded good to me. And then we set out -- through narrow alleys, across debris-littered fields, and past fragile-looking dwellings. Startled women and children gazed as we passed by, sometimes within a few feet of their front door. This was Kabul, up close and personal.
I later learned that ANA soliders who witnessed the attack shot and killed their comrade who had ambushed the Americans. "He was a rogue soldier," I was told. Rogue or not, the devastating consequences were the same, and some members of my security party took the news hard. They knew the colonel personally and remembered him as being "a great guy, humble and totally committed to the peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan." I was at a loss for words. It was another brutal reminder that the mission in which U.S. and coalition forces are engaged here is serious business, and lives are on the line everday.
--Tony Velocci, Editor-in-Chief, AW&ST