The Shir Khan Bandar Bridge

I took the Team to the Shir Khan Bandar Bridge on the Tajik border.   This is a very important bridge linking Afghanistan to the north with Tajikistan. We had two gun-trucks and some extra people from an adjacent Province with me and two interpreters (“Terps”) so I felt pretty good about the combat strength.  This was part of a two-day reconnaissance I had planned, and we expected no more than terrain familiarization and a few photos of this key bridge.  We got close and took a dismounted patrol to the bridge site.  Suddenly, the Border Police Colonel in charge of the site appeared.  What a coincidence. The word is that he paid $500,000 U.S. for the post.  An e-fuckin’-normous sum by any standard and for Afghanistan, where annual income averages $410, this is crazy money.  Why?  So he can profit from, and control, the opium-and-weapons-laden trucks crossing by the minute at this new multi-million dollar Coalition-Forces constructed bridge. 

So, here he is talking to me through my Terp. Of course, I’m acting like I’m out for a Sunday stroll and he is visibly flustered that the Americans are here. He was puffing up defensively but I acted sleepy and slow and suddenly we were drinking Chai in his office a short distance away. A blue bird flew in and out of the room, circling overhead like an ancient Roman portent of great moment, streaking to hate me with his little black eyes at each pass. 

His closest bodyguard stood in the doorway and looked at me curiously the whole time. The bodyguards that guard the Province Generals and key people like this Colonel always seem like wiry little fucks who can handle themselves in any situation. Especially when they squint at you.  So, after all the plastic preliminaries, I got around to talking about things like truck searches, screening criteria for the traffic, and the total amount of criminal activity they intercept.  It turns out that he’s been there a good long time and only “found some wine in a truck once.”  I laughed immediately and involuntarily.  Even my Terp almost laughed.  The Colonel and the bodyguard were not amused with us laughing and the bodyguard clutched his AK-47 rifle tightly and I could suddenly feel how animal-close he was to me. This little Tajik with the rifle, (weathered, Asian, mahogany), would have been at home on a horse with a double-curved bow ranging the central Asian steppes in a great cloud with Genghis Khan. After things calmed down, the Colonel wanted to talk only about how he wants to catch fish from the river and have his people specially prepare it for me. 

Ah, well,. . . there are some things one doesn’t mention in polite society.

2 thoughts on “The Shir Khan Bandar Bridge

  1. Kevin Perrin’s “The Shir Khan Bandar Bridge” blog post seems to me to have the potential to be one of those modest but telling anecdotes that succinctly illuminate the American military experience in Afghanistan, richer in specifics than a parable, but still lean and uncluttered.

    Without unnecessarily summarizing any lesson he learned then or realized later, Kevin Perrin reports the event as he experienced it — surely little could focus the mind more fully on the present moment than being “animal close” to a menacing, suspicious Golden Horde descendant with an AK-47.

    I am especially impressed with the unobtrusive ways in which one conversation over chai is placed allusively in an enriching historical context: Roman auguries, Genghis Khan violence, and the mindset of centuries of western colonizers and interventionists (their frustrations and their contempt for those “wiry little fucks”). This encounter has happened before, and will again.

    So we readers experience this scene as we experience good fiction, aware of the universals shadowing the specifics of this time and this place. We know or sense more than the central character himself openly acknowledges.

    Fortunately, we do not need any authorial explanation: Kevin might have an entirely different idea of what lessons the reader should get, but I understand the take-aways to be about the limitations of American intervention, destabilizing culture clashes, American soldiers’ distrust of the Other, the Other’s distrust of Americans, and the corruption that distorts and hobbles poor countries at war.

    And in Perrin’s last line’s ironic fall back on western civility and polite truth-avoidance, the reader gets the eventual admission of defeat and futility. Ah, well. Mission not accomplished.

    John Bolton would harrumph at such defeatism, but John Bolton stubbornly lives in denial, 19th-century ignorance, and magical thinking. I trust instead Kevin Perrin’s experience, probity, modesty, and taste for nuance, and all those virtues are in his blog post. Kevin Perrin also writes way better than John Bolton talks.

    Like

  2. Stephen, your analysis is exactly in concert with my intentions here. Thanks for taking the time; you know this kind of comment will keep me writing forever . . . see, I know your intentions also.

    Like

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