The Fruits of Our Labor

A/N: This was inspired by helping my sister for a project presentation about Afghanistan. The videos she presented to me about Afghanistan's economic recovery have given me food for thought about how much the country has changed since the invasion that broke the back of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Also, I was listening to Linkin Park's Castle of Glass, which was featured in Medal of Honor: Warfighter. This story features Dusty from AFO Neptune from the 2010 Medal of Honor game. He was also featured in Warfighter. As this was made at spur of the moment, this is not my best work. R&R :)

Kabul, summer 2015.

Dusty was walking along the streets of Kabul. He was on for rest and recreation, better known as R&R, and during the days of the GIs, was referred to as a "liberty pass". The Ex-Delta operative, now a member of the CIA's Special Activities Division, was told of a place where he can buy souvenirs. He had been around the world serving his country, starting during the Gulf War when he was a Green Beret, helping the Kurds organize raids against the rear echelon of Saddam Hussien's Iraq. His time with the Kurds opened a whole new understanding the world around, and ever since, was involved, had given him newfound respect for cultures outside of America. Soon after the Gulf War, he was recommended by his commander for selection in The Army's 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, better known as the Delta Force, an elite counter-terrorist unit modeled on the British Special Air Service. He aced through the grueling selection course with flying colors but that was only the tip of the iceberg. His main asset was his skills with people, a lesson learned well from his Special Forces days.

The day was hot, bearing down on him. It made him missed the mountains around the country, where he went to war against the Islamic fundamentalists. The cool air cooling his skin at night, the smell of cooking fires inside a hut, the scent of a lamb stew and rife pilaf cooking on a stove, the strong sweet teas taken with Northern Alliance fighters, and the smell of strong tobacco wafting from nearby huts. What a time it was.

He entered the the thriving marketplace, large crowds of people arriving to buy or sell what they need. It was rich variety of people: ISAF troops also on R&R, contractors, aid, workers, and of course the Afghan people. A people who have more than two decades ago whose only reality was war, poverty, fundamentalist repression and despair. He remembered the way they walked shortly after the invasion. To them it was a another day in a nation at war except their surprise at seeing Americans on foot, where they looked around in apprehension and fear. Midway in the occupation when things were slowly coming together, when the marketplace looked less derelict and hectic, he had an impression that they woke up from a nightmare. A really long nightmare. With no idea what to do now awake, or wary whether they really were awake or still dreaming.

The people he saw today, it seems like they were finally up, now coming to enter a world, that while the reality of war was not far away, would not touch them for the time being. Baby steps, he thought. They were still trying peace for the first time in their lives. Yet, some were relishing it. He saw some women gathering around the produce section, some of them wearing blue burkhas, a traditional veil that covers much of the body from head down, and some of them wearing mere headscarves. The old and the new, he thought. To his left were a gaggle of schoolboys thronging around a food stand to get snacks. A group of men where bargaining over the sale of some lambs. There was an auto-rickshaw manufactured by the Zarang Motorcycle Company, one of the up and coming local firms of the country, zooming by, delivering chickens. Afghanistan's changing. From a third-world failed state to an somewhat emerging nation, Afghanistan is slowly taking its place in the world. The Taliban and Al-Qaeda are all but gone. For now. Here they wanted to build a paradise of that hearkened back to the roots of Islam - and a hell for everyone else. The fighting never stops, never has, but he sees schools, hospitals, and offices, being built, children no longer have to fear, especially girls of the repressive Taliban. He was glad they have future.

He muttered to himself, "Where is this place?"

"May I help you, sir?" A courteous female voice distracted him. He turned to the voice and saw a policewoman. She was wearing a headscarf as part of of her uniform.

"Well, I'm looking for this bazaar," he replied.

"It's right here," she said and gave him directions.

"Ah, tashakor," Dusty said gratefully. "Salaam aalaikum."

"Qabele tashakor nest." She smiled. "Khoda hafiz." She returned to her duty keeping the peace.

This woman, he thought, is a sign of progress. Under the Taliban, women like her would have been killed in different ways for performing a man's work. and here she is, doing her duty. She was an affront to everything the fundamentalist stood for - she must have known about it when she signed up and was now risking her life everyday. She's a hero.

Dusty sighed. He was simply putting off time to find a souvenir. He continued to his destination.

United States Special Forces. The name alone brings to mind connotations of Stallone's Rambo, a one-man ninja army who can take out a corps of enemy paratroopers in a day and wreck an armored division's entire motor pool afterwards. That was not it and he was sheered of such illusions during when he trained as a Special Forces operative, an 101st Airborne paratrooper volunteering soon after finishing the Ranger course. Among the things they hammered to him was that Special Forces' main mission, aside from the glamorous infiltration and sabotage missions, is to teach people how to fight. Specifically, they were sent abroad to train armies of friendly nations and were founded to train resistance forces in a Soviet-occupied Europe in the event of WWIII. The training had given him a change of perspective in his thoughts on soldiery and unconventional warfare. Serving with the Kurdish pershmerga in the 90's was both exciting and heartbreaking. He observed the Kurds fighting Saddam's forces with a competence and dedication he has known as a Green Beret, making up for their deficiencies in strength and hardware with their expertise in guerrilla warfare, performing sabotage and intelligence work, and he really felt that he was living up to his unit's motto, Di Oppresso Liber, helping them fight for their freedom.

The end of the Gulf War, however, brought a political turnaround, where Coalition forces halted their advance into Baghdad and Saddam surrendered his war. The humiliated dictator turned his wrath on his domestic enemies, namely the Shiite Muslims and the Kurds. He was there during Operation Provide Comfort, a British-headed military operation covering the evacuation of Kurds fleeing rampaging Iraqi forces. He was there when he guided a distraught woman, a widow of a man shot by Republican Guards, while carrying her child in his arms to a CH-53 Stallion which flew them to safety. He observed the misery the Kurds had experienced under Saddam and had listened to their stories, especially the Halabja chemical attack and the Anfal massacre of the late 80's. He was also angry deep down at what he considered a betrayal of a valiant people by foreign policy hacks.

It prompted him to quit active service and for a time, he was an instructor at the Ranger School in Fort Bragg, which was when he was approached by his commander for recommendation as a potential Delta Operative. He had reservations. At first he was hesitant, remembering his service in the Special Forces, remembering the Kurds. However, the man who recruited him, a Capt. Powell, assured him that none of that will happen and that he will serve his country on a much higher capacity. He gave it thought, dug deep into his heart and saw that the fire was pretty much alive in him. The day after, he volunteered. The process, which broke so many eager to join, had made him wiser and the day he graduated was the best day in his life. He was deployed too late to join the ill-fated Operation Gothic Serpent, better known as the Black Hawk Down incident, in Somalia but had a hand in bringing down the man responsible, Mohamed Farrah Aidid, working with a rival faction to bring him down in the end. He was well respected by his Somalian allies in the rival camp for his understanding of their culture.

This was what made him among the most effective Delta Force operative from his batch, especially when working with local assets in any area of operations. He always respected their values and customs, earning their trust. He learned the language of the locals. Many missions succeeded due to him getting a good deal out of the locals. When the War on Terror began, he was first to fight. One of his main responsibilities was making contact with factions against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, which was mainly the Northern Alliance and the Afghan National Army. He also had a hand in helping villages get aid after ousting the Taliban and cultivating intelligence contacts therein. He had learned to appreciate the country, its people, its history and culture. So much had gone on here in the last five millennia into shaping one of the hardiest and most complex peoples of the world. Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, the British, and Russians have tried and ultimately failed to bring them to heel. In a place where most people could not read or write when he arrived here, there were old men who can gracefully recite national epics and ancient poems at heart. The hospitality he received among Afghans, in spite of their meager means and the toll of war on their psyche, was phenomenal. They remind him of the Kurds so much. During his tour in Afghanistan, he trained, conferred, and fought with them. He shared their trials and triumphs, he rode with them until the end of his tour.

He wondered where they are now. During his spare time, he manage to bend the rules a little to found what happened to the Afghans who fought on his side. Some were doing well after war, others not so. Quite a few have turned bad, engaging in the drug trade, another malaise Afghanistan has to root out, and quite a few had even turned darkside. It had saddened him that some would be disillusioned with the American presence in the country, believing it to yet another foreign power imposing its rule in Afghanistan. But he's not the one making their lifes' choices, is he? He just wished that all of them did well. Especially now the country was getting its footing truly for the first time.

"You are from America?" an old man asked as he tended to his roadside stand.

"Yes," Dusty replied. "I am from New York."

"New York?" the old man said astounded. "That was horrible what they did to your Twin Towers. Those Al-Qaeda are doing the devil's work!" It is an ignorant idea that all Muslims are evil. No, it was only a handful that taint the rest, who for the most part, want to live happily and peacefully as much as the next guy.

"Yes, indeed."

"Madness!" He threw up his hands. "Whenever some of those fools do such things, it is us who pay in the end."

"I hear you, grandfather," he replied respectfully. "No one should lay a hand on an innocent."

"And die for fools. They sent young men to die and for what? They cause so much suffering and make others do the same."

"They are no different than the Russians," he said. "At least those had the grace of being useful fools for their rulers in Moscow. I fought with Shah Massoud in the Panjshir valley. With the Russians, you hear them a mile away with their jets and their guns. They don't now how fight in the mountains like we do."

"It must have been a tough time."

"It may be so but that's nothing like the Taliban. The only thing they are good at is shooting people for pointless little things. I am glad they are gone. They brought so much pain with them."

"I hope to go home to the Panjshir someday. I hear things have settled now."

He heard wheels rolling by and noticed a boy playing with a homemade skateboard. He looked like he had a time of his life as he and his friends played around. Under Taliban rule, those boys would be under a strict regimen of schooling that teaches their radical,and intolerant brand of Islam. It occurred to him that he had saved those boys from a terrible fate and helped shape a future where they can live their lives without fear and choose their own destiny. He chose to be in the Army, the Special Forces, and Delta. These kids can be whoever they wished to be and for the better.

"Mr., what are you doing?" a little voice said. He drew his attention to his feet and saw a little girl, wide eyes sparking with curiosity.

"Why, hello little girl?" he asked gently in his best Dari.

"You're big," she observed. "And scary."

It almost made him smile. "No need to be afraid. I only look scary." The disparity in size was apparent. She was no more than five years old and quite short. He was a six-foot giant. He then wondered why she was alone. "Are your parents around?"

"My mother is with my brother right now. They are talking with a baker for a party of our aunt's birthday."

"How wonderful?" He said. Afghans were quite a close-knit people, much like his own family. Every few years, his folks take him to his mothers' parents at North Carolina, where they have this big barbecue being held. Whenever they can, most of the family and many neighbors attend an entire day of eating cooked pork, gumbo; of shooting hoops and telling stories. Back in New York, his grandparents held a similar one every Christmas with dishes from old Lithuania. Those were good times.

Then a thought occurred to him. She might have wondered off from them! "Excuse me, little one," he asked, "where is this bakery?"

"It's right there," she pointed to his ten o'clock.

"There you are," a boy's voice said and he noticed him running towards her. "We were worried about you," he said disdainfully, "you could have been hurt."

"I'm alright," she replied. "There's this big man here watching over me."

"But what if the big man would take you away?" he asked pointedly.

"Awa, Abdul," a woman's voice called out, chiding. "Don't fight in front of this man. It's not nice to do that."

The two children turned to the woman, their mother. "Yes, mother."

"But she was wandering away," the boy added out defensively.

"It does not matter what happened, what matters is that you're both safe," she said. She turned to him. "I'm sorry if my children are disturbing you."

"No, not at all," Dusty replied. The woman he was speaking to was dressed in long-flowing black dress and wore of course a headscarf. Her appearance, the cut of her dress, the fluency of language indicated she might be among the new generations of affluent Afghans who were making a name for themselves in the country, mainly as office workers, intellectuals, and business leaders. "You have wonderful children, ma'am."

"They are," she replied. "They're out of school today. A bomb was found at their school." She looked rather worried. "God willing they found it in time."

"A bomb threat?" he asked earnestly. "Where?"

"It's at the east side of school. A leftover from the war, they say."

"It is good that the children are safe." The specter of conflict continues to prowl the country, he thought sadly. In the mountains and in the cities, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda still fought on, trying to fight for their dream of a pure country according to their distorted views of Sharia. There was also run-of-the-mill violence from the drug trade and no doubt the political violence that inevitably follows as soon as they left.

"It is indeed." She she sighed. "My office just closed due to some refurbishing. Seems the construction was shoddy. I was on my way to the bakery to place an order of Gosh-e Fils and Sheer Payra for my mother-in-law's birthday tonight."

"Ah, that's wonderful," he said with delight. They still have time for family and nothing like hell or high water can keep them apart. Not even the Taliban or Al-Qaeda.

"It's senseless to continue on fighting," she commented. "The war is over and we live at a different time now. I just wish this place would be safe for my family."

"The fighting never ends," Dusty said sadly. "It's like when you put out a fire, two more burst in their place. I pray that at least the fighting ends here."

"I really wish it were simple," she agreed. "Even if it does end here, they might come back."

"Ma'am, you have have nothing to worry about. Just pray and have faith that those who keep the peace will have the courage, fortitude, and wisdom to carry on their duty to protect those who are weak."

Her eyes went wide at his eloquence. "Well spoken... I do not approve of violence but supposed I'm on the front lines."

"Oh?" It was his turn to be curious.

"I'm actually a lawyer and my firm represents women who are victims of violence."

"Wonderful, it is an honor to meet you." This woman was another hero.

"I know. I face death threats in my line of work. My husband is a senior health official. He must be coming home from a village outside of Kabul, hopefully before tonight. He wouldn't want to miss his mother's birthday. I hear he is bringing presents."

"I see, I see." He nodded approvingly. "You are blessed with a wonderful husband and a good father, and that he is blessed with a wonderful woman as his wife. And your children to are lucky to have you as their mother."

She almost let out a chuckle but held herself. This was still Afghanistan where the relations between strangers of the opposite sex were still reserved. "Thank you, sir. Now, if you excuse me, I'll be getting back to shopping."

"Can we stop at the Cherry Berry?" Awa chimed as all little girls should.

"Yeah, I want one too," Abdul joined in.

"Yes, we will." It was followed by cheers from the children.

He cocked an eyebrow. "Cherry Berry?"

"It's the latest thing around," she answered. "It's a yogurt stand which opened about a few weeks ago and the children loved it. Abdul likes chocolate while Awa favors hazelnut."

"Ah, sweets for the children. It is good to indulge them from time to time but not too much. It's bad for the teeth and bad for the habit."

"I understand. I'll bear it in mind. It was nice talking to you."

"As it is with you, ma'am. Inshallah."

"Inshallah." She turned to Abdul and Awa. "Come on, let's have some Cherry Berry." They eagerly flocked to her side.

He smiled as watched them leave. He was watching a mother and her children have a good time. He thought back to the time he had helped his mother with groceries back when he was a little kid back in New York. Now these children can get live somewhat like he did. The change in Afghanistan was phenomenal in just under ten and a half years. Those children had scarcely new of what happened a few years back. That was a good thing. The young need not burden their thoughts with heavy subjects like violence. He often wondered if his service to the country is service to humanity. He fought a shadow war against enemies who threaten his country, yet he wondered if it was all worth it. His encounter with the lawyer and her children affirmed something: he had made the right choice. All around him was the fruits of his labor, an imperfect one to be sure, but one that would safe and secure for the family he met. And for millions more. Al-Qaeda and their ilk had used fear, fear to impose on others their vision which not all people shared with them. And he fought so people live in a world without fear and against those who used it for their own ends. Yes, this war will never end, and who said it should? But as long as their is conflict, there are those like him who will fight on others' behalf in the name of peace and freedom. The sacrifices were not easy ones, the loss always hurts. But the price of freedom was always high and the fighting never ends.

But it was worth it. As long as he is awake, standing guard, someone else can sleep peacefully tonight.

This is dedicated to International Security Assistance Force(ISAF) soldiers and to the people of Afghanistan. Thanks, ISAF, for your bravery and sacrifice and that peace will be your legacy, and and may you prosper, Afghanistan, so your people can thrive again.

Trivia: Zarang Motorcycle is real, it was featured in a commercial called Afghanistan: A Market to Believe in. Shah Massoud is a reference to Ahmad Shah Massoud, a legendary guerilla leader who fought the Soviets and then the Islamic fundamentalist regime until his death in September 9, 2001. He is considered Afghanistan's national hero. His force, United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan, better known as the Northern Alliance was the opponent of the Taliban during most of the 90's well into the early 2000's. Cherry Berry is indeed a real frozen-foods franchise founded locally, started by a doctor as an experiment, which turned into a full-blown business. Gosh-e Fils and Sheer Payra are two notable Afghan desserts, the former being a traditional doughnut and the other a milk fudge, both use nuts and spices in their flavoring.

The phrases used in the conversation are in Dari, one of the two official languages of Afghanistan.

tashakor - thank you

Salaam aalaikum - And peace be upon you, a common Muslim greeting.

Qabele tashakor nest - You're welcome.

Khoda hafiz - May God protect you. This also common in South Asia in use even by Hindus and Christians.

Written and published by Anime Borat, November 24, 2015.