16 Soldiers Who Fought In Afghanistan Reveal Their Preconceptions That Turned Out To Be Completely Wrong

January 7, 2016 | 3 Comments » | Topics: TRUTH

1. That Afghanistan was an actual country. It’s only so on a map; the people (in some of the more rural places, at least) have no concept of Afghanistan.

We were in a village in northern Kandahar province, talking to some people who of course had no idea who we were or why we were there. This was in 2004; not only had they not heard about 9/11, they hadn’t heard Americans had come over. Talking to them further, they hadn’t heard about that one time the Russians were in Afghanistan either.

We then asked if they knew where the city of Kandahar was, which is a rather large and important city some 30 miles to the south. They’d heard of it, but no one had ever been there, and they didn’t know when it was.

For them, there was no Afghanistan. The concept just didn’t exist.



2. About the fighting we did….I had in my mind that it would be these organized ambushes, against a somewhat organized force. It may have been like that for the push (Marjah), but once the initial defense was scattered, the fighting turned into some farmer getting paid a year’s salary to go fire an AK47 at our patrol as we walked by. I mean, no wonder there was so much PTSD going around…it doesn’t feel okay when you killed some farmer for trying to feed his kids, or save his family from torture that next night. It feels like shit actually.



3. That they had any idea why we were there. We’d ask them if they knew what 9/11 was, and they had no idea. We’d show them pictures of the WTC on fire after the planes hit, and ask them what it was…their response was usually that it was a picture of a building the US bombed in Kabul (their capitol).

Kind of mind blowing that they’re being occupied by a foreign military force and have no idea why.



4. That we would be fighting the Taliban. The majority of people we managed to detain had been coerced into shooting at us by the “Mujahideen” (which is made up of all sorts of people) who had kidnapped or threatened their family.

The most glaring example of this was when our FOB (Forward Operating Base) was attacked by a massive VBIED (truck bomb) that blew a hole in our wall. Suicide bombers ran into the FOB through the hole and blew themselves up in our bunkers. Every single one of them had their hands tied and remote detonation receivers (so they couldn’t back out).



5. I expected everything to be desert and mountains, but I spent as much time in orchards as I did anywhere else while I was there.

Also, a lot of the people didn’t want us there any more than they wanted the Taliban there. Ultimately they just wanted to be left alone to live their lives.



6. Their concept of food. In their culture if anyone had food they were to share it with everyone around them. This is even if you only have enough for one person to have a snack. It was almost as if they didn’t believe food could be owned by a person. Some of the Afghans I worked with would be offended if I ate anything and didn’t offer them some.

I guess also that I would actually be working with some Afghans. I didn’t expect that to be a thing.



7. I was mortuary affairs in 2008 during my first deployment to Afghanistan and I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. I never had to fight, but I was constantly dealing with the remains of 18-22 year old soldiers that had been blown into pieces or burned alive due to HMEs and IEDs. Seeing your fellow soldiers and countrymen brutally killed in such a way that is easy to see as cowardly turned me into a budding racist pretty quickly. I hated the Islamic religion and the people in Afghanistan and I had an opinion similar to the whole “just nuke em all” mentality. But one day we were called to the hospital on base to remove a dead civilian local national (which we often did if they died in our hospital or on base) and it turned out to be a 3 year old little girl that was shot with AK-47 fire at a fairly close range. Her father followed us to the morgue as we had to get his permission to take her into our care because we were males and all that, and he didn’t seem particularly bothered by his daughters violent murder imo. It wasn’t until we placed her into a hand-made casket (a sgt and I stayed up all night making a wood casket out of cheap particle board we found, despite neither of us having any clue what we were doing) and draped the Afghanistan flag onto it that his emotions came out. When we began to load the casket into the back of a truck to transport her off base, he lost it and collapsed onto the casket containing his little girl. We were holding her at the time so we nearly lost it, but were able to set her down as he gripped the flag and the casket and wailed louder than any wailing I would ever seen. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a grown man truly cry as if he’d just lost everything, but it’s surprising how much it affects you. I realized in that moment how wrong I was about everything. Felt like a real moron.



8. Soldiers tend to train for fighting at sub-500 metres. At least I always had. Not being able to see the enemy wasn’t completely out of the norm for training, but they were usually within the effective range of our small arms.

Come to Afghanistan and we were getting fired at by invisible enemies on the side of mountains a kilometre + away. We hardly knew we were getting engaged, let alone went into contact drills.



9. They told us we were going to fight the Taliban. Turns out, there is no way to know who is Taliban, or what Taliban is, or what they look like. A guy will be bringing his kid to your clinic one day, then shooting at you the next. You’ll make friends with a kid on an airdrop, then see that kid slit another kid’s throat on patrol a week later. There is no “enemy” and no goal. The people don’t even understand who you are or why you’re there. Many of them believed we were invulnerable demons. One elder tested this theory by sending a small child to try and stab me in the back with a knife, which was made by welding a blade onto an old .50 cal casing. Kids dig up mines, bouncing betty’s, and old russian munitions and set them off like firecrackers.

The place is a fucked up maelstrom with no conceivable sense of morality, justice, benevolence, or community. Every single person is just trying to survive.



10. That everyone was going to be dirty and poor like in those “help a poor starving child” commercials. I remember being really suprised to see kids running around playing in dirt roads and everyone was clean. No dirt smudges on their face or anything. Also there were these 2 little girls with the most unbelievably white dresses I have ever seen standing by the side of the road watching our convoy roll by. Very surreal.


11. (Deployed in 2011) My misconception was that we were going to help the Afghans have better lives. We would do anything we could to get people to talk to us and give us any information on the Taliban and Haqqani. Most said nothing, but some were honest: “Look, what good will it do me to talk to you? You will leave soon. They will still be here. What are you going to do for me? My brother was kidnapped last week. Have any Americans been doing anything about that? Can you protect me and my family? If something happens to us, can I count on you?” Of course, we would try to sound positive and helpful without making promises, and try to act like “Of course, we’re here to help you!” But protecting Afghan civilians was not the priority. Not that we would intentionally endanger them, but we would never go out of our way just to save or protect a local. “Force pro” (force protection) is the name of the game.

And I get it, it’s the military, not a humanitarian NGO. Certain missions take priority, and you can’t risk lives needlessly. I just thought that we might have put more effort into winning trust.



12. That it was really a war. It’s just people sustaining other people, with a lot of nothing actually getting done. As someone who was a gunner for most of my tour, we mainly did transportation missions from Kabul to the eastern province. We never saw any action, and to this day I thank God for that. The fact that a lot of my time outside of convoys was spent either sleeping, eating, or gaming surprised me I suppose, but in the end, we’re just there to provide presence, and not expected to actually acomplish anything. The amount of awards Givin out back in Kabul for people simply hitting a high quota of maintenance repairs threw me off to. There were times when I was looked down upon for not working everyday in a shop and instead being on convoys. The worst part of it all was losing a friend to suicide after returning home safe. That was something I never expected to see happen and it still messes with me to this day.



13. Was in the Tangi Valley and we had two of our 4 of hmmwvs broke in the middle of a town. The whole village male population came out to help us dig out our vehicles. Talking like 100-200 people who were digging and shit. Right next to us and with us.

Sun went down and it started to snow. Everyone left. We got attacked that night.

The villagers didn’t want us there. Not because they hated us, but because they knew their mud huts were about to get fucked up in the attack that would happen that night.



14. I served in both Iraq and Afghanistan (2 BCT, 101st Airborne 2004-2009), one preconception I had prior to arriving was that the whole country was a shithole. Afghanistan had some of the most beautiful landscapes and views I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying. The people there are simple, farming and hunting gathering type folk and when introduced to money they became extremely selfish.



15. I’ve been to eleven other countries during my five years in the Marines. Went there expecting the people to be chanting for our death and plotting nefarious acts of villainy all the time. Which, certainly, there are a few out there.

For the most part though, people the world over are the same with minor outliers. Afghanis are not an exception here. They mostly just want to be left alone, tend their land and their family. They’re almost exactly the same as anyone who grew up in the deep south, just a different flavor of religion.

Most interesting to me is how their history is passed down each generation. It’s all word of mouth, for generation after generation, and largely focused on the wars they’ve fought. The end result is you’ll have Elders in the mountains who’ll swear that their great-great grandfather fought against Alexander the Great.



16. I was deployed to Afghanistan in 2007. As a female with knowledge of the culture over there, I was sill shocked at the level of female inequality and general disrespect for females by Afghan men. Here are just a few examples:



(via AskReddit)