The day the sergeant was killed David Fernández Ureña, in January 2013 in Afghanistan, Carlos -fictitious name on request- he was eating pipes next to the convoy. They had detected a carafe that could be an explosive and Ureña had to deactivate it. Pure routine. “I said, ‘Hurry up my sergeant, we’re in the mood for a beer now.’ He told me that we were not at all with the beer. Within 10 minutes an explosion was heard. Nobody was fazed. We knew what had happened. We all looked at each other saying ‘that’s it, it’s stayed there’. The companions collected it in several bags and brought it to them. It was an explosive trap ”, he recounted by phone, breaking between his words.
Afghanistan is experiencing its darkest night in the last 20 years. This Sunday the capital, Kabul, has finally fallen into the hands of the Taliban insurgents, who have managed to take control of the country at breakneck speed after the withdrawal of Western troops who had managed to maintain a very fragile calm so far. Panicky Afghan citizens are watching everything built collapse and are starring in some of the saddest scenes that have been seen in a long time: as those who have grabbed onto American planes trying to flee and have rushed to the empty in flight.
For Spain, Afghanistan is not just another country. Spanish troops have been in the area for 19 years -from January 2002 until last May-, they have carried out more than 1,400 missions and up to 102 soldiers have died in them Spanish people. All this, now, is thrown to the ground before a country that was tried to help and that in a matter of months has returned to the fundamentalist Taliban yoke of 20 years ago.
Therefore, EL ESPAÑOL has spoken with three Army soldiers who have served in the Asian country to find out their reflections on the matter. His is a story of people who have seen their lives in danger and have lost companions along the way, who have felt useful giving humanitarian aid to those who needed it and who have met an Afghan people wanting to prosper … What was that for? ”asks Carlos. “We have given them a life expectancy of 20 years. And that’s it. Everything that was forwards has now gone backwards ”, he laments.
Attacks every day
Javier Hernandez He was in the first Marine infantry team to set foot in Afghanistan. He did it in March 2008, for four months, and then returned in 2009. His job was to help the Air Force direct the bombings and he noticed a clear difference between the first and the second. “In 2008 things were bad, but it was relatively safe, we only had three big fights in which we had to ask for air support. In 2009 the harassment was constant, every day they attacked us, ”he explains by telephone.
He, now, is in a logistics post in Madrid, far from danger, but vividly remembers those days at the base of the city of Qala-i-Naw. And the fact is that that city, of more than 60,000 inhabitants, fell into the hands of the Taliban just a month ago.
“What do you think when you see that the Taliban have eaten up the ground so quickly?”
“I feel like I have to go back to running, to doing push-ups, and I’m willing to go back.” There are two extremes of people there. There are those who have no attachment to life, because of their religion, and are going to fight to the death. I’d say “the bad guys,” but that qualification is simplistic. Then there is the town on foot. They don’t want problems, they just live quietly, and I think they deserve all the lives that the conflict has claimed. It is a town worth fighting for and one that should be fought for. We are perfectly prepared for it. All countries should be involved.
Hernández’s love for the Afghan people came to him on December 27, 2009. After a weapons test exercise, they were told that they were attacking a nearby town. “They told us from Spain that we couldn’t intervene, so we went back to base. But around 5:00 in the morning they called us to go. We were on the outskirts of town, in the rush, we hadn’t brought food or anything. While we waited, the local inhabitants brought us carrot jam, bread, they told us that if we needed anything… ”, he says.
“We, the Spanish, there were only four or five cars, waiting there for the Afghan Army to enter. But they understood that we were there for their town. They were people who had dropped their picks and shovels and had taken the Kalashnikov to defend it, some of them were on horseback, without having a clue of how to use weapons ”, he says. “Finally, we entered on the 29th. To celebrate it, they played us music. Imagine what it means to them: with the Taliban, the first thing they have to do is destroy the books and the music equipment, ”he adds.
“Have you lost a partner?”
-Thanks God no. We have indeed lost members of the Afghan Police and Army. We have been saved, although we have been close. I’ve been spared a few inches from a shot to the head. It is that at the beginning, in 2008, we went with semi-armored ones. In the second we already went with a good armor. Bad mechanics, like everything Spain buys, but thanks to the armor we got rid of the impacts we had.
Although he is willing to return, he regrets the situation in which the country has sunk. “We know that they will go back to the Middle Ages. They will make any single woman theirs, the murders will return, the stoning will return, they will hang the homosexuals… ”, he explains angrily. “Spain has withdrawn the troops as if this were flower power. They are more interested in an article in a newspaper saying that the troops are withdrawing and increasing their popularity than in saving lives ”, he adds.
“For a military man, going into combat is his final destination. I’m not a hit man, I don’t want to kill anyone. But I have done it to defend the people in my country and in Afghanistan. Governments come and go and throw stones at each other. We don’t care about any of that. We are going for the vocation to defend ”, he points out.
Sacrifice for nothing
Carlos has not had the same luck as Javier and he has seen his teammates fall in combat. His are the words that open this report. However, he asks that he not be identified or said what work he did, since he is currently in the Reserve and does not want that speaking to the press without permission could harm him. And it is that in his words there is a lot of bitterness as a result of the latest news: “I feel that I have been a whole life there, sacrificing my youth, for nothing,” he says.
He has been to Afghanistan up to three times: in 2005, in 2008 and in 2013. In the first two “there was a real ruckus”; in the latter, the Spanish government severely restricted its work. And still he lost to David Fernández Ureña. But it has not been the only one in which he has seen his life in danger.
“Once we had to bring humanitarian aid to a town that was relatively isolated and no one had been there in a long time. Also, it was almost Christmas and we brought them blankets, rice and things like that ”, he begins to relate. “As soon as they left the base, the harassment began. But it got even more complicated when we reached a valley and they even attacked us with mortars. We were two or three days of combatThey even had to bring us ammunition. Imagine how that was, that we in the cars carry ammunition to spend 10 end of the year firing firecrackers without stopping. It was horrible, ”he adds.
Fortunately, they did not have to count any casualties among their companions on that mission. The Taliban were not as unemployed and, according to Afghan leaders, they killed about 60 insurgents. Unfortunately the mission ended in nothing, they had to turn around and humanitarian aid never reached the town.
“How do you explain what it’s like to go into combat to someone who has never done it?”
-Can not explain. There is a before and after. When you have never entered, you are the bravest. Then you realize that the other one also shoots. When you see that they fall close to you, that they kill one of your own or that the vehicle in front of you jumps through the air … there your look changes. You can see it in their faces, they have it lost. Everything was going through my head. I was thinking of my family, that in a second I could be left with nothing. It is, excuse the expression, like shitting and pissing on you, but without doing it. But you are ready, you look at your teammates, you are side by side, and you move on.
Carlos’s situation also has an added bonus. He is in the Reserve because, when he turns 45, He was fired, as has happened to many comrades of Troops and Sailors afflicted by the temporality of their trade. “When my girl said ‘dad’, I was in Lebanon. When he learned to walk, I was in Haiti. Now we feel abandoned and I have to beg for security jobs, I work four hours that I hardly even have to pay for gas to get to my job. And, that, taking into account that we are still useful within the Army ”, he laments.
David, also a fictitious name since he is active in the Army, he has never been in combat. It is not the work of this artillery noncommissioned officer who was in Afghanistan from November 2013 to May 2014. He dedicated himself to logistical support from the base of HeratHowever, he is well aware of the instability of the country because of what he experienced at his job.
“We had a lot of risk in the people of the country who worked in Herat. You had to see if someone was playing double games, if there were attempts to get information and things like that, “he says. “In the end, there were people who the Taliban took their family and told them that if they did not give information or put an explosive, they would kill their own,” he adds. “I think one of the reasons the country has fallen so fast is because there is a lot of Taliban infiltrated. They had the means to defend themselves, but they didn’t have a real Army, ”he says.
“The Afghan people are like any other. They may be more behind or less, but they want prosperity and modernity. Kabul, before the Taliban, was very well on the way, with its cinemas, shopping centers and sports facilities, ”he says. “At first the Taliban were not so radical and they were seen as a movement even fair. Remember that the Taliban used to be Mujahideen and were friends of the United States in the war against the Soviet Union. But have been radicalized in the ideas of jihad and it has been degrading, just as a democratic power can be degraded for other reasons ”, he points out.
– With all the effort that Spain has put in, even with human lives, how do you feel these days?
“It’s very sad that so much effort has gone to hell.” The people who have stayed there are very sad. The translators who worked with us, even the people who were going to clear the bases… they are going to take revenge on all of them. Because the Taliban are not stupid and they have their intelligence, they know who has been where. And if they don’t know, they will find out.
Before ending the conversation, David wants to leave a note. “I hope that your article serves as a call to the international community so that what is beginning to happen does not finish happening. Because, if they really wanted to stop this, they would stop it ”, he assures. “The problem is that there is no oil, no natural gas, and no wealth. Now the opponents and women are going to pay it“, Add. And he is right.