Nowruz Mission – Part 1

Prepping for the Nowruz mission.

For our ANA counterparts and Afghanistan, Nowruz is the celebration of a new year and for us it would mean a 12-hour mission to new places, new roads, and a new experience.  Nowruz marks the first day of spring and the beginning of a new year 1389 even though for us and our Gregorian calendar it’s 2010.  Nowruz has its origin with the Iranians dating back several thousand years and has been adopted by many Persian or Middle Eastern countries.  It’s interesting to note the Taliban banned the celebration of Nowruz, but after their removal in 2001, this rich tradition was restored.  Any time the Afghans celebrate a national holiday, it means gridlock traffic and a sea of pedestrians.  We knew this before leaving the camp and tried to plan accordingly.

Oops, traveling down a one way street.

The roads through Kabul are like a plate of spaghetti with no real rhyme or reason.  For security and size restrictions we have to be cognizant of the routes we travel, otherwise, we accidentally tear down power lines, banners, tree limbs, etc.  Some of the more direct routes go through city markets, dirt roads, round-a-bouts or paved arteries filled with hundreds of potholes.  Due to the Nowruz celebration, several roads would be blocked off to facilitate throngs of pedestrians and others would be congested with traffic.  As such, we had to find new routes to bypass these areas and still get through the city in time to meet our mission time line.  To facilitate travel our maps are coded with street names we can remember like those of states, colors, objects, numbers, etc., since we can’t memorize the Afghan names and for the most part, signage is nonexistent.  Even the landmarks are given nicknames such as “Pigeon Mosque,” because large flocks of pigeons gather outside this mosque daily.  These nicknames help to familiarize and identify travel routes.  But today would be new territory and roads we’ve never traveled.

We departed the camp on time and I readily observed the additional security checkpoints established by the Afghan National Police (ANP).  They were there to detect any possible insurgent attack and protect the large crowds of people.  These checkpoints created bottlenecks which caused the traffic to back up.  Our first detour caused us to travel against opposing traffic down a one way street for a couple hundred meters.  It’s not good COIN, but the alternative would have taken an additional hour or two.  Just as we planned, the traffic was minimal and didn’t cause any problems other than raising a few eyebrows.  But our next planned turning point was blocked by the ANP and they wouldn’t let us enter the street.  So now it was back to “Oh crap, where do we go now?”  We were downtown near several ISAF facilities and figured cutting through their complexes might be a shortcut.  We quickly found out that wasn’t going to work because the road narrowed and we feared getting wedged between two walls with our lumbering MRAPs.  Since there was no place to turn around, we tested our backing up skills for several hundred meters and continued on our journey.

After making several more U-turns and circles, we made our way out of the city.  OK, we got lost and even with the aid of an interpreter who lives here, we still took the scenic route weaving around the city’s congested side streets until we could find our way out.

Camp Blackhorse as seen through my window.

Our first stop was a place near and dear to my heart.  It was Camp Blackhorse, my first duty station before relocating to my current camp.  Other than a few changes, it still looked the same.  Since we didn’t have much time, we stayed on the outside of the camp and dropped off our passengers who were scheduled to attend a conference.  I looked hard but didn’t see any sign of the camp dogs Liberty or Justice.  I hope they either found a good home or perhaps they were out wandering on the ANA side of the camp.

Our next stop was Camp Phoenix to conduct some other administrative business.    As we approached the main gate, I readied my ID card to show to the guards.  But not today, we were quickly waved through the security checkpoint.  Perhaps they read my previous blog entry about how cumbersome this was and how it posed a danger to us by backing up traffic on the main road.  Or perhaps common sense prevailed and there are better and safer methods to employ.

Kabul Intl Airport, military terminal.

While at Camp Phoenix, we received an urgent call to pick up some VIPs at the Kabul International Airport (KAIA).  For some reason, their Personal Security Detachment (PSD) was unable to make it in time.  Our patrol would take their place.  Originally we were going to augment the PSD and provide additional security for these visitors.  Our guests wouldn’t arrive until 1500 hrs, so we decided to visit the coalition PX and bazaar area.  But when we pulled up to the site, all of the shops, PXs, restaurants, etc. had disappeared.  It was like they were never there, except for the concrete foundations that were left behind.  To be cont’d ……

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  1. […] guards. But not today, we were quickly waved through the security checkpoint. … Read more: Nowruz Mission – Part 1 « Afghanistan My Last Tour Share and […]

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