Confused gunfire shows communications gap in 'fog' of Afghan war

BARZARI-PANJWAII, Afghanistan - An insurgent explosion shattered the mid-morning calm of this village in the restive Panjwaii district Monday, prompting confused gunfire from Afghan soldiers that exposed some of the frailties of their methods.

BARZARI-PANJWAII, Afghanistan - An insurgent explosion shattered the mid-morning calm of this village in the restive Panjwaii district Monday, prompting confused gunfire from Afghan soldiers that exposed some of the frailties of their methods.

Seconds after the blast in Bazari-Panjwaii, the soldiers opened fire and a rocket landed nearby.

Their shots were almost immediately augmented by the high-pitch whine of more bullets flying from a different direction over the heads of a group of Canadian soldiers accompanying the Afghans.

"Who's shooting?" Lt. Jean-Pascal Roy shouted frantically into his radio as the soldiers with him ducked for cover.

"Tell them to stop."

"Too much stress, too much stress," another soldier said as he pressed up against a covering compound wall.

While calm returned within a few minutes, it would take the rest of the morning to sort out what had happened during what should have been a routine foot patrol.

It began peacefully enough, with the Canadian-mentored Afghan soldiers taking the lead on the walk through the village.

The patrols afford the Afghan soldiers an opportunity to plan and execute patrols in an effort to raise their profile and hopefully instill confidence among locals in an area of high insurgent activity.

Trying to get a read on a particular situation often relies on subtle signs and gut feelings that seem akin to reading tea leaves.

"I felt something was wrong," Roy said afterward.

"There were not too many kids about."

Master Cpl. Devin Batchelor agreed.

"The pattern of life was completely changed from what I've experienced before at the time," Batchelor said.

"Someone knew something was going to happen, obviously."

Either way, the scene appeared pastoral enough as one of the Canadian soldiers chatted with an Afghan resident, trying to gather information about the Taliban.

The man, who seemed tense, said he didn't know anything about the insurgents.

The blast, less than 200 metres away, threw out a trail of sparks and molten metal clearly visible despite the glaring sunshine.

The lack of a tell-tale whistling sound suggested an improvised explosive device, rather than a rocket, but it brought the conversation to an immediate halt.

Then the shooting began.

Afghan soldiers would later explain they saw an insurgent running away.

However, their gunfire attracted the attention of nearby Afghan police officers at an outpost adjacent to a Canadian base.

They, apparently, decided to start spraying bullets in the direction of the gunfire, not realizing their military counterparts were in the area.

The confusion highlighted a glaring communications gap between Afghan soldiers and police, who frequently work the same areas in the hunt for insurgents.

"We have some adjustments to do in terms of communications," Roy said.

"This is Afghanistan. This is the fog of war."

Meanwhile, Afghan President Hamid Karzai was demanding answers after a gun battle at a Kandahar city government building between Afghan soldiers on one side and Afghan police on the other.

The shooting left up to 10 officers dead, including the chief of police.

Brig.-Gen. Jonathan Vance said members of the international military coalition were not involved in the shootout.

"This was an altercation between Afghan security forces," said Vance, senior Canadian commander in Kandahar.

With the Bazari-Panjwaii situation under control, a specialist quick-response force arrived to search for clues to the blast.

The patrol then headed back to base as the Canadians mulled over the sequence of events.

"It's why we're there - to make sure they keep a grip on their guys," Roy said of the Afghan soldiers.

"They have a relaxed view of warning shots," Batchelor allowed.

Cpl. Frank Hebert took in the discussion.

"Nothing ever happens when I go on patrol," he said.

"But it's OK. The pay's the same."

 
 
Latest From ...
Most Popular From ...