Search for a bomber: ‘If someone runs, let us know – don’t shoot’by
Dave Tobin / The Post-Standard
Dowlagey, Afghanistan — It was midnight when they set out on their mission, headlights off, driving the highway with night vision goggles.
Afghan police, following between U.S. Humvees, had blackened tail lights on their Ford Ranger pickups, leaving slivers of red to guide the trailing vehicle.
Their target: a Taliban suspected of organizing multiple improvised explosive device bombings along the road near this small village of 30 people in Zabul province. Their hope: he would be asleep at the home of his mother and wife.
Outside Afghan police barracks here Tuesday, U.S. Army Capt. Odelle J. Means, 30, from South Carolina, briefed Afghan police on basics:
“If someone runs, let us know — don’t shoot. Don’t shoot at motorcycles either. People along the highway — don’t shoot at them. They are friendly. Only in the village.”
Lithuanians would be along the highway, securing the outer perimeter.
Naveed Rahmany, the 20-year-old interpreter known as Rocky, repeated Means’ directives in Dari and Pashtu.
Lastly, Means showed Afghan police the suspect’s photograph.
Dogs barked as the troops pulled up to the village. A quarter moon hung on the horizon, casting shadows around the mud compounds. Means led part of the team to the suspect’s compound, directed Afghan police to enter the courtyard, then toward the suspect’s door. An Afghan intelligence agent kicked it in.
Low voices murmured inside.
“Rocky, what’s he saying?” Means asked.
“There’s no men in there,” Rocky said. “Just a boy.”
“Ask the boy if he’s seen him.”
“He’s not responding.”
“Ask when was the last time he saw him.”
“He’s not responding.”
“Keep asking questions.”
“He’s scared. He’s crying.”
A woman’s voice.
“What’s she saying?” Means asked.
Leaving the compound, Means and New York Army National Guard. Cpl. Jeffery Raby, of Lewiston, N.Y., wedged fliers under log roof rafters. The papers urged peace and asked for help finding insurgents.
Over his radio, Means received word from the other search party that a man might have left the village, headed east.
Means directed his men and Afghan police to sweep the village – searching each house, bringing men outside for questioning.
But every directive from Means had to be translated. Afghan police wandered around awaiting guidance. They did little without it.
“Rocky, tell this guy to take charge,” Means said of the Afghan commander. “Tell one guy to control his men. Tell him to stay close by us.”
They entered a second compound with goats, drying onions, a motorcycle. Means searched the motorcycle.
Afghan police kicked in more doors, splintering some. Two men were brought outside, one a mute known to soldiers and who had passed through the village before. Three women in burkhas came outside and squatted next to the mute man in the shadows.
The Afghan intelligence officer offered a cigarette to the other man, and they squatted by the threshold and talked.
“What’s he saying?” Means asked. “Everything that’s said needs to go through Rocky.”
Rocky reported what the man said – all the villagers are against the Taliban suspect.
“Tell the guy we don’t want to search people’s houses. He has to let us know (the suspect’s location),” Means said.
Through radio contact, Means learns the other search team in the village found six men, who are questioned by the intelligence officer. They acknowledge the suspect moves through the village, motorcycles move through the village, but they offer little new information. Rocky photographs each one, takes their name.
A small mud hut at the edge of a crop field is searched, yeilding nothing. Means directs Afghan police and U.S. soldiers to spread out and walk the field, looking for anything unusual – a bag, a cache of explosives or drugs dropped or concealed.
But in this dark, shadowy landscape of brush piles, ditches and mud walls, anything or anyone could be easily hidden.