Shrapnel from Afghanistan IV


from the book

Outlaw Platoon

by Sean Parnell with John Bruning



Baldwin had not joined the army for college money.  He hadn’t joined because he couldn’t find a job.  He’d joined to kill the sons of bitches responsible for 9/11.  This was his moment, and it made him positively glow…


Through these long and often boring days, our patrols yielded tidbits of information about the enemy we faced.  To my surprise, we were not fighting the Taliban alone.  The papers back home made our enemy in Afghanistan out to be a monolithic force.  We had made the same mistake during the Cold War, assuming that all Communist countries formed a monolithic, anti-Western bloc.  That simply was not the case.

Same thing in Afghanistan.  The Taliban was the main group aligned against us, but its influence on the border was much less substantial than that of another shadowy organization, one that the CIA knew well.  Known as the Haqqani Network, it had first taken shape during the Afghan-Soviet War in the 1980s, thanks to the acumen of its leader, Mawlawi Jalaluddin Haggani.  Charismatic, moderate in his religious views, and a capable diplomat and organizer, Haggani led a band of warriors in southeast Afghanistan that destroyed hundreds of Russian tanks and downed dozens of aircraft while playing a key role in the defeat of the Red Army.  Jalaluddin’s moderate views and proximity to the Pakistani border made him a natural fit with the CIA and Representative Charlie Wilson’s campaign to support the Afghan insurgency.  Before the end of the war, the Haqqani Network owed its funding, its weapons, and some of its training to the United States.

After the Russians withdrew, the Haqqani Network formed a loose partnership with the Taliban.  In 1996, Haqqani fighters helped the Taliban throw the Northern Alliance out of Kabul, a battle that established Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban, as the most powerful man in Afghanistan.  Jalaluddin, though a respected warlord in his own right, did not have the strength to challenge the Taliban for supreme control of Afghanistan.  So they remained uneasy partners, sometimes feuding, sometimes working together if it served their own interests.

By the time my platoon arrived on the border, Jalaluddin’s sons had taken over the day-to-day operations.  They were well suited for the task, as their father had groomed them for specific roles.  One had become a fund-raiser in the Middle East.  Another had become the military commander.  A third son, Sirajuddin, had been named Jalaluddin’s successor.

Beneath the Haqqani family’s leadership, the network was managed by a core of loyalists who had fought with Jalaluddin against the Soviets and in the subsequent civil war.  Below their ranks were the young Turks, the rising leaders within the network who earned their reputation while fighting Americans along the border.

The network recruited its foot soldiers mainly from Pakistan, though there were plenty of Afghans in the rank and file as well.  Over the years, young men inspired by their mullahs to fight infidels had become the key source of manpower for the network, and under Siraj, it had been trending toward a radical Islamic orgaization.  Those devoted men, most barely out of their teens, had died in large numbers since 9/11, but there were always ample supplies of idealistic replacements waiting for the chance to leave their madrassas and join the jihad.

It took some time for us to understand how the foreign fighters we had killed on the mountaintop on May 8 fit into this equation.  Eventually, we unraveled it.  The Haqqani Network maintained a loose association with Al Qaida, which supplied it with talented jihadists from all over the globe.  These experienced men, many of whom had fought in Iraq, Somalia, or Chechnya, formed the insurgents version of an NCO corps.  They had become the backbone around which the indoctrinated, if inexperienced, sons of Pakistan coalesced.  In combat, the foreigners served as small-unit leaders.  When on the other side of the border, they functioned as the training cadre, preparing each new wave of jihadist canon fodder for the crucible ahead.

Thanks to our signals intelligence section, we’d come to know a little about Galang, the man who led the jihadists into battle against us…


The Apaches arrived overhead.  Their crews detected the launch sites, could see the teams reloading for the next volley.  But they could not shoot.  The Pakistan Army troops on the slope were intermingled with the enemy rocket teams.

Our “ally’s” soldiers functioned as our enemy’s human shields…


Late that afternoon, we returned to Bermel through the Afghan National Army side of the base.  The ANA soldiers had spent the day inside the wire.  We passed knots of them playing dice games and kicking soccer balls.  Here and there, others sat in the dirt with vacant eyes, smoking hash.  Their polyglot uniforms were ill tended.  They were poorly groomed.  They looked like a unit that just didn’t give a shit.

From my turret, Chris Brown exploded, “You motherfuckers!  Fight for your own goddamned country!”

“Brown, knock it off,” I said…


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