Tuesday, August 19, 2008

An Unlikely Hero

Last night, an Afghan friend of mine named was murdered in front of his home in a quiet village along the Kunduz river, in Kunduz Province Afghanistan. Sgt. Ayoob was the supply NCO for the police in our district. Only twenty years old, he was an Aghan version of our archetypical supply sergeant. Like Zelmo Zale on MASH, he was slightly selfish in his job, but not crooked to the point of felony. He often worried more about protecting his inventory, than about combat readiness.We had recently convinced him, to issue the first aid kits he held dear. It required a wristlock. Ayoob hated to wear his uniform. I had to badger him about it daily until it became a habit.

Courage is odd. It comes in many forms. For some it is a virtue that must be pursued. Ayoob usually seemed to be afraid of his own shadow. He was certainly afraid of his superiors in the Afghan Police. Just two weeks ago I had to walk him into his commanding General's office, for a signature, after an Afghan Major had chased him out. He wanted me to chastise that Major for the perceived insult, but he allowed himself to be bullied into doing his work without protest, when he knew he wasn't doing what he should.

That evening, our team had just spent two long days in the district. At about 1800 our team chief decided he'd had enough of his counterpart's continuing incompetence, so in spite of plans to stay out another night we decided to head back in. Ayoob was the last ANP I talked to before leaving.

We had been conducting NCO and soldier development that afternoon. A typical round of the "The supply guy doesn't give us stuff." vs. "They lose the stuff and lie." argument began. I counseled Ayoob about being an NCO, working WITH his peers, setting an example, etc. I will always remember, he was in uniform, but his shirt was hanging out. He said he had untucked it after the guys had begun making fun of his belly. "The supply guy was getting fat!" Different Army, same jokes. I encouraged him to do his best, and then we left.

Back at our base, in the chow hall Major H., SFC M., and myself were talking about him while we ate. His goofiness, his uniform problems. Less than an hour later the Major stopped by my room.

"Ayoob is dead."

Col. A. H., the hopelessly incompetent Police Chief, had called one of our interpreters, hysterical about the murder. At first we only knew he was killed near his home. It was less than two hours since I had last seen him, and playfully smacked his shoulder.

In the morning our interpreter had more details, and we spent the day in our district getting some of the facts. Col H.K., the investigative officer, responded to the shooting immediately and talked to the family. They were despondent, but they did provide some information. Ayoob was just outside his home, when 3 males approached on motorcycles. One leveled an AK-47, and Ayoob our own "Cowardly Lion" found his courage, he managed to draw his pistol and fire a single round. Unfortunately they emptied the AK magazine into him, continuing fire even after he went down. A message. An act of terror.

Today's terrorist seeks to create a continuing atmosphere of fear. The Afghan insurgency, centered as it is on the remnants of the Taliban uses terror to cow the populace into accepting them in the communities of Afghanistan. Here they reek havoc on Afghan society. Undermining the current government, by inducing terror, is both their tactic and their goal. By destroying the credibility of the police, and sowing fear in its ranks, they seek to create an opportunity for their own pursuit of power.

We did an HA drop the next day, distributing food and clothing in a town on the edge of our district. where at least some of the populace has links to the Taliban. On the way home we passed Ayoob's funeral. A Muslim must be buried within twenty four hours. He was apparently popular. Hell, I would never have told him, but I even liked the goofy little putz.

The NDS, the Afghan FBI, is handling the official investigation. We have as yet been unable to determine whether certain known assassins, who were locked up for murdering a farmer recently using the same MO, were able to bribe their way out of jail, but they are my favorite suspects.

Ayoob was an unlikely hero. He was the supply NCO, precisely because no one saw him as a fighter. That was probably what made him a victim, his enemies saw him in him the easiest target in the district force. And maybe they were right. But Sgt Ayoob of the Afghan National Police went down fighting, braver than even he knew. He drew his Smith and Wesson 9mm and stood his ground, dying with his boots on, literally as well figuratively. Defending his life, his dignity and the inchoate nation of Afghanistan. Let's hope it wasn't a waste.