Once War was Hell;
John H. Leeper
Beneath a starlit sky, a U.S. Special Operations officer crawled to the top of a ridge overlooking the besieged city of Kandahar. For weeks he had been "painting" targets for Navy attack aircraft with a laser, but tonight his orders were to stop Taliban reconnaissance patrols. He cradled a high-powered rifle equipped with a massive scope and a silencer. Close beside him a Northern Alliance scout peered into the darkness with a pair of high-tech night binoculars. The Northern Alliance scout tapped the American on the shoulder and motioned towards a hilltop about 300 yards away. Three figures carrying Kalishnakovs crept furtively through a narrow ravine.
The sniper coldly trained the cross hairs of his scope on the head of a ghostly green figure in the eyepiece of his sight. His thumb deftly released the trigger safety, and he prepared to fire. Suddenly, the Northern Alliance scout gripped his arm. The American turned his head slowly wondering what danger the man had seen.
Inexplicably the scout raised onto his elbows, his binoculars focused on the distant trio of Taliban soldiers, his head well within view of them.
The American hissed between clinched teeth. "Get down!" But to his amazement, the Northern Alliance scout shouted an Arabic greeting that echoed from the surrounding boulders. The three Taliban scurried for cover.
"Are you out of your mind?" the American stammered in broken Arabic.
"Don't worry," the scout replied. "I think I know their leader." He shouted loudly, "Falahfel, is that you?"
A voice replied excitedly from the distance, "Allah bless Osama bin Laden!"
A tremor of unmistakable glee filled the scout's voice, "Falahfel, it is you! It's your cousin, Omar, from Mazar-e-Sharif! Your sister's second husband was my father's step-nephew, Naban. Remember him? He had the two spotted goats with the funny horns."
The night was momentarily silent. Then the voice replied, "It is good to hear from you, Omar. Are you still a Northern lackey of the American infidels?"
Unperturbed the scout replied, "Of course! You know I could always pick a winner. Allah, must love you, Falahfel. This American infidel was about to blow your brains out when I recognized you. How is your family?"
For the next few moments they exchanged pleasantries about the fates of different relatives - a nephew killed in the bombings around Kabul, a half-brother who wed the previous month, a cousin doing a thriving business in the opium trade, a niece who was pregnant.
Throughout the exchange, the U.S. serviceman stared at his Afghan ally in stunned disbelief.
"Are any foreigners with you, Falahfel?" the scout asked. "No."
"Then why don't you come over and join our side before this infidel kills the three of you?"
There was a prolonged silence accentuated by a distant boom of falling U.S. bombs. Finally, Falahfel replied simply, "Okay." The three figures bounded into view from behind boulders and began crossing the open country between the ravine and the ridge. Instinctively, the American placed the cross hairs of his rifle on the chest of one of the trio, but a hand suddenly covered the front of his sight.
"It's all right," the scout said reassuringly. "Falahfel is a good guy." He then shouted to the approaching Taliban, "The American doesn't trust you."
The three Taliban stopped in their tracks and held a short parley in the open that included much hand waving and beard stroking. Finally, one of them cried loudly in broken English, "Allah, bless George Bush!"
The Northern Alliance scout grinned broadly and said, "See, they are on our side now."
In a few moments, the four Afghans were gathered in a tight group, hugging shoulders, kissing one another's beards and thumbing through the tattered pages of a "Sports Illustrated" swimsuit edition the Northern Alliance scout had concealed in his vest. All the while, the American stood with his back to a rock cliff, rifle at ready, prepared to kill all four of them at the first hostile motion.
The scout noticed the serviceman's cornered expression and asked, "What is the matter now?"
The American cried in desperation. "I was about to kill these guys five minutes ago, and now you're acting like they're our best buds. Are all of you crazy?"
The scout shrugged indifferently. "I can remember when you Americans were sending us guns and explosives so we could kill Russians. Your President Reagan called them the evil empire. Now, you and the Russians are the best of friends. What is the difference?"
"Well . . . I mean . . . that's different!" the American stammered. "That took years, not minutes."
The scout shrugged. "Afghan males have a very short life span, so things must move a little quicker over here. I'm sorry, infidel, but if you are going to fight in this war, you are going to have to learn to keep up." Then, he returned to his conversation with new allies.
The American said, "We have a job to do for crying out loud!"
The scout's thick eyebrows knit with deep concern. "You are right, infidel. It is our duty." He turned to Falahfel. "Do you know where any foreigners might be found?"
Falahfel nodded and spoke of two Pakistani sentries keeping watch from a distant ridgetop. He had shared rations and evening prayers with them only hours before.
"Good," the scout grunted. "Lead the American infidel to the Pakistanis so he can shoot them."
Falahfel shouldered his rifle and walked away, turning at a distance to wait patiently for the bewildered American sniper.
The Northern Alliance scout and his new comrades sat on rocks oblivious to the U.S. serviceman's presence. They heatedly discussed the theological possibility of international swimsuit models becoming celestial virgins in the afterlife.
Finally, the American slung his rifle across his back and trudged after his new guide, Falahfel, muttering under his breath and shaking his head in bewilderment.
His commander in chief had been right about one thing. This would, indeed, be a war like no other.
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