KABUL, Afghanistan — The slower pace of things here in the last few days have given me a chance to reflect on some of the more unexpected things that I’ve seen in the last six weeks while reporting from the southern half of this country.
One of those things is just how prevalent animals are — and how differently they are treated than in the U.S.
Marines on patrol regularly pass sheep, goats and cattle grazing through the area. When we were in Marjah with 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, several things caught me off-guard. Some were sad, while others were simply a jarring reminder that we weren’t in the U.S. anymore. Consider the following:
** On my first patrol outside the wire with 3/6, the Marines I was with searched a deserted compound after finding spent AK47 rounds on a road in front. A note was left by its apparent owner saying that the compound was abandoned ahead of the initial February assault on Marjah, but a dog, chained to a pillar, had been left behind. It looked miserable, and probably didn’t make it through the week.
** On another occasion, Marines patrolling through a farm compound came face to face with snarling dog. Baring its teeth, it snapped against its chain, clearly trying to defend its turf and take a chunk out of a Marine’s leg — or worse — in the process. The Marines’ preferred option was to avoid it, but they trained their rifles on the dog in case it broke its chain. Children nearby saw the scenario playing out, and responded by pelting the dog with stones until it yelped repeatedly and laid down.
** Not long after a group of Kilo Company 3/6 Marines we were traveling with east of Marjah were ambushed, I was surprised to see a 6-year-old girl slit the throat on a chicken, assumedly to prepare it for dinner. Five minutes later, she stepped on her pet dog’s head to keep it from moving as Marines patrolled by.
I assume many of these situations struck me due to the cultural differences between Afghanistan and the U.S. They’re certainly striking sights for Americans, however. For the Marines, they can also be distracting: In addition to worrying about the Taliban and any number of other problems, they must also watch for herds of goats that get in the way, flocks of sheep that block roads and strange breeds of dogs that frequently seem to approach 100 pounds.
As one frustrated squad leader described Marjah: “It’s like a petting zoo in hell.”
Add it to the list of difficulties that Marines face.