Operation Homecoming: Lunch with Pirates Barrett Golding
Bizarre cordialities exchanged between bitter enemies.
Sergeant Notes Odd Rituals of War in Afghanistan
January 15, 2007 from Day to Day
ALEX CHADWICK, host: This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.Coming up, the Ethiopian sound gets a New York accent. First... Staff Sergeant CLINTON DOUGLAS (U.S. Army): My name is Clint Douglas. I was a staff sergeant on a Special Forces A-Team in the Second Battalion 20th Special Forces Group, Illinois National Guard. CHADWICK: Army Staff Sergeant Clint Douglas deployed to Afghanistan in 2003. The local warlord was a man named Zia Audin. Officially, he was an American ally but with a brutal reputation, an accused rapist and murderer who terrorized nomads. He even bombed the firebase where Clint Douglas lived. Sergeant Douglas and a friend met with Zia Audin and Sergeant Douglas's essay about that meeting is the final part of our series Operation Homecoming. Sergeant DOUGLAS: We had just taken over the firebase from a previous team and the team leader announces, well, you guys need to go up there and have lunch with him. And I thought that I'd missed some kind of meeting. I was like, have lunch with Zia Audin? Isn't he trying to kill us and working with the Taliban or al-Qaida or whomever? And he said, oh yeah. It's a courtesy. It's expected. Because Zia Audin was technically on our side; he was protected by the Ministry of Defense in Kabul. And we had to go up there and size each other up. The name of the essay is "Lunch with Pirates." Now I had never in my pitiful life knowingly exchanged pleasantries over lunch, or any other meal for that matter, with a man who was regularly trying to kill me. But when Bill invited me to escort him to the castle for his first meeting with Audin, I jumped at the opportunity. The idea seemed so elegant, like the medieval Spaniards and Moors retiring to each other's tents to play chess and exchange bon mots after a bloody day of battle and slaughter. So moving on, we're at the lunch, things have already started to go badly, and this is my team sergeant, Bill, speaking. Well, General, the only way that we'll be able to help you is if you join your forces with the Afghan National Army, Bill continued. The son of Norwegian farmers from Minnesota, he looked every bit the errant Viking that he was. His thick and muscled body always seemed to be straining to contain something explosive and volatile. His face was permanently locked in an angry scowl under a shaggy mane of sandy hair. I'd always had a nagging sense that Bill might feel the need to snap my neck someday, just to relieve tension, and I'd been his friend for six years. All right, so the luncheon has already finished. The results are ambiguous at best. So we're back at in firebase and we've gotten out of the vehicles, removed our body armor and we've headed over the Afghan officer tent to discuss basically our impressions with our Afghan counterparts. The general consensus among the Afghans was that Audin needed to be handled respectfully, if not gently. While all of this flowery discussion was taking place, I noticed that Bill seemed more explosive than usual, and then suddenly he slammed his fist onto the table, spilling everyone's tea, and his face contorted into unmasked fury. I hate that (bleep), he screamed to no one in particular. I wanted to punch that no-good mother (bleep) in the face. Beat that mother (bleep) right in his own damn house. Beat him right in front of his men. I'd love to shoot that bastard. And then he laughed like a maniac at his own bloody fantasy. Cultures everywhere celebrate their traditions, but they also chafe against them. Most Afghans were tired; tired of war, tired of fighting, and tired of meaningless talk. Bill embodied the unrestrained and unpredictable power of the United States, but his frustrated rage appeared to be honest, and honesty is a rare and precious thing. Stories of his impolitic explosion filtered through the terps, the ANA soldiers, the Afghan militias and mercenaries, into the city, and no doubt to our myriad enemies. Bill's reputation was made. That was the day that the Afghans named Bill Shere Khan, the tiger. That was the day that the Afghans fell in love with him. Bill was a force of nature, and so it was impossible to tell whether his outburst was genuine or calculated drama, but it amounted to an earthquake. Up until that moment, the Audin situation was a local political problem, but Bill had made it personal; he'd made it tribal. And at that moment he'd crossed over and gone native. After that day there wasn't a thing that our Afghan troops wouldn't do for him. They trusted him completely. In a land fragmented by blood feuds, he'd transcended politics and had declared a personal vendetta. And in Afghanistan, it was considered a moral obligation to carry out one's revenge. Two weeks later, Zia Audin quietly abandoned Castle Greyskull and fled to Kabul. (Soundbite of music) CHADWICK: Since Clint Douglas left the Army, he's been working full-time on a book called "Lunch with Pirates." Our series Operation Homecoming was based on the book project "Operation Homecoming." The series was produced by Barrett Golding of HearingVoices.com. And to hear the entire series, visit our Web site, npr.org.