This is another excerpt from Waltzing in the Shadows I thought I'd share with you.
I cannot say where I heard this story or who told it. But, I will tell you that, as far as I was able to confirm it, it was true.
“If there is a Hell on Earth, that accursed land is it.” The Russian Praporshchik explains how the land is incredibly mountainous - and poor beyond belief. “The only thing it produces of value is the cursed opium poppy that flourishes in every valley with flowing water, big or small.” He admits more than a few Russian officers made large sums of money by sending their troops in to hijack the raw opium, shipping it back home to sell. “It was the only reward some soldiers got for the terrible suffering and poor pay we received,” he adds, apparently not afraid that someone present might report his words to his superiors.
He continues to explain how the land is unbelievably backward, running water and electricity in the buildings, even in larger cities, scarce and totally unknown in the hinterlands.
“We constantly carried water treatment pills and boiled our water for whatever we used for - even bathing.
“They raise the scrawniest goats you will ever see, the only creatures that seem to survive in a land where little of value grows. Their gardens are sad and a big feast is held when one of their horses or camels dies.” He adds that more Afghans die from food and water-borne illnesses than anything else - “Except for us, of course.
“They are a cruel and uncaring people who do not value life. Accursed western journalists make a big deal about Soviet cruelty and barbarism and never, ever report on the utter primitive inhumanity of the Afghan rebels.” He adds that the biggest fear of any Soviet soldier is falling into the hands of the rebels.
“Officers are held for ransom, although, when and if they are released, are so badly injured, physically and mentally, that they can never be return to active duty.”
He goes on to explain that enlisted personnel are treated worse.
“We were sent on a reconnaissance mission, seeking a group of rebels reported to be active in a mountainous region between the city of Sar-e Pal and the Iranian border.”
The combat team, led by a senior lieutenant with the warrant officer second in command, had been flown into the area in a Mi-17 Hip-H helicopter, escorted by two Mi2 Salamanders and the massive Mi-24 HIND gunship.
“We were dropped on a slope five kilometers from the target and it took us almost four hours to cross the distance because of the utter desolation and roughness of the terrain.”
Reaching a vantage point over the valley, they discovered a typical Afghan village of mud, single-story huts and poor tents. A large crowd had gathered by an open field and tribesmen were milling around on their ponies.
“We hunkered just beyond the military crest of the slope and our radioman tried to contact the helicopters. While the lieutenant was busy doing that, I scanned the valley floor with my binoculars.
“There were fourteen of us facing well over a hundred Afghans. We had a marksman with a Dragunov sniper rifle. He was so good that he could guarantee a head shot at two thousand meters.”
A shot of that accuracy in the mountains with uncertain wind currents and aiming downhill isn't only difficult, but considered to be nearly impossible.
He further explains that, in addition to the eternally favorite Kalashnikov AK-47, they had RPGs and two grenade launchers. “Even then, we were not about to go up against them without air support. The lieutenant was going crazy trying to reach the gunships.”
Horror filled them when three prisoners were prodded from a tent. They were Russian.
“The bastards use a particularly cruel way of restraining prisoners. They tie their wrists to a pole they then place behind the neck with a noose tight around the throat. If the prisoners lose strength and relax their arms, the noose tightens, cutting off the air.”
The Afghans prodded the trio to the edge of the field and slammed the butts of their ancient rifles to force them to kneel on the ground.
“I heard of but never before saw what came next,” the Russian warrant officer says with pain in his voice. “We watched helplessly. The tribal leader pulled out a scimitar, walked up behind the first prisoner and, without hesitating, lopped off his head.”
The head rolled on the ground and one of the riders trotted up, bent down from the saddle, picked it up by the hair and yelled at the top of his lungs. Blood still pumped from the severed torso. It was Buzkash, the start of the Afghan version of polo from centuries ago in the northern reaches of India.”
According to the Praporshchik, the aim of the game was unclear, at least at first.
“All we could see for certain was that whoever had the head was fair game for all the other riders who did everything they could to take the head away and try to get it to a pole at one end of the field.”
The Russian says the riders spent nearly half an hour racing back and forth until one rider, who appeared to be the villagers' favorite, finally reached the pole, tossing the head into a wicker basket on top.
“But, the game wasn’t over,” he continues. “They lopped of the head of the next man in line and used it for a ball until it too was placed in the basket with the first.”
As that was going on, the lieutenant finally made contact with one of the gunships and heard they were on the way. The radio operator recognized the hate and anger in the lieutenant’s voice as he said, several times, that they were coming at full speed.
The third head was barely rolling on the ground when the massive HIND rose up over the ridge at the head of the valley and swooped down towards the crowd below. It was followed by the two gunships, all three helicopters with cannon blazing and air-to-surface rockets sending trails of smoke behind as they flashed towards the crowd.
“Half of the bastards died, but the rest fled, scattering in every direction. As soon as the choppers appeared, we leaped to our feet and raced down the steep slope. We were able to kill about twenty running in our direction. And, I will tell you right now that I had no compunctions about killing the women and children. They stood by cheering as the heads of my fellow soldiers were lopped off and treated horribly.”
After a pause, he continues, “I think the only good thing about it was being able to recover the bodies so they could be sent home to their families.”
What is there to say? He is a soldier sent to fight a war that makes no difference whether he thinks it is good or bad. He had to fight a foe that appeared and disappeared like will-o-wisps and were as inhumane to his troops as his troops were to them. There was no Code of Conduct or even a hint of human rights in the blood lust of war.
Again, this is just a small excerpt of the novel and I hope you enjoyed it.