We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming…
For all that the fruit vendor from two posts ago frustrated me with his, er, “outside the box” analysis, I do sympathize with him a little bit. Irrigation systems and waterways are kind of a big deal in a place that’s been in a drought for a decade, which most of Afghanistan has been. Everyone and their grandmother wants a retaining wall, because the occasional flash flood + dry soil = goodbye crops, land, houses, bridges, and whatever else gets in the way. And it turns out that Mother Nature and Americans reluctant to spend money cleaning karezes aren’t the only headaches when it comes to getting reliable water.
It was a clear morning with a light breeze as the Platoon and I headed out the gate. We rolled up the street and all was quiet in my vehicle aside from the heavy beat emanating from under my seat where the newly-installed sub-woofer was located. Military trucks don’t really come with MP3 jacks or sound systems, but soldiers are pretty ingenious when it comes to finding ways around that. So down the road we went with music blaring until we got to our destination—an agricultural village with a ring of mountains rising up in the distance.
We decided to climb out of the trucks and take a constitutional. As we strolled up the road, such as it was, we saw a couple of men busy digging along the edges of their fields where the wheat was beginning to sprout. They nodded to us, so we walked over and saw that they were shoring up some of the irrigation ditches that ran along and between their crops. We got to talking about how their yields had been, if they were worried about the lack of snow the previous winter (a lot of irrigation relies on runoff from melting snow in the mountains), and that kind of thing, when one of them growled a bit.
“We’ll be okay without snow. That’s not the worst problem. The worst problem is the Taliban.”
“Wait, the worst problem for your crops is the Taliban?”
“Yes! When they put bombs on the roads and they blow up, they destroy our irrigation ditches! Every time they do it, we have to go dig new ones and that’s a lot of work, but they don’t care about us. That’s why we always report them when we see them digging or sneaking around.”
…In the grand scheme of things, those motives may not be quite the ones we’re aiming for when it comes to combating insurgents and strengthening the government, but sometimes you take what you can get.