December 14th, 2009
04:11 PM ET

Helmand a dangerous place, but also 'a precious jewel'

Editor's note: CNN correspondent Atia Abawi is touring areas of the Helmand province in southern Afghanistan. (Read the posts from Day 1 and Day 2)

Another interesting day in Khan Neshin; we walked through a field of hashish, got a glimpse into the lives of Afghan women here, I was able to hold a smiling little baby and we had tea with a soldier who has a kill count of 83 – for mice in his tent.

On patrol
“Singayaay!” the Marines and soldiers greeted villagers in Pashto.  Walking on patrol in Maranjan, we followed the troops as they helped the Afghan police pass out blankets to the villagers.  Hearts and minds in action, this time in hopes that it would shed a positive light on the local police - a police force that has been traded out several times for misbehavior including intimidating the villagers and drug use. The last group kicked out had 11 out of 20 test positive for drugs. 

But the alarming part is those men will not be kicked out of the Afghan National Police (ANP) and likely just be relocated to another part of Helmand province.  All because the ANP is lacking numbers as they try to grow.  Right now, throughout Afghanistan, it seems with both the ANP and Afghan National Army (ANA) it is more about focusing on quantity rather than quality.

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="U.S. Army Cpl. David Johnson on patrol"]

There were many skeptical Afghan eyes as the forces walked by greeting them with one hand waving and the other holding their weapon; but the Afghans were more receptive than they were six months ago.

Less scared of Taliban reaction but still not fully trusting the intentions of the U.S. troops patrolling their village.

“Who ever has the power, we have to agree with them, we locals have no power to do anything or else we will be targeted,” a villager Rahmatullah told us.

The men were smiling and even laughing with the Marines as they watched a soldier sink calf deep into the muddy terrain.

The children were excited to get pens and toys from the Marines who would then be bombarded by children surrounding them with their hands on their faces donning shy little smiles.

And even I was able to hold a smiling and laughing baby for once.  Happy children are rare to see in the city of Kabul where I spend the majority of my time.

In the remote villages of Afghanistan, children are still children; not yet forced into adulthood in the harsh streets of the city losing their innocence in the most heartbreaking ways.

'It's OK, I'm a woman'
It was mostly the men and boys we saw, as the women peeked over the walls of their homes to see what was going on. They're not allowed to come out and are restricted to the confines of their mud homes.

“It’s OK, I’m a woman,” I said, peeking by their doors, just as curious as they were.

A group of females, young and old, allowed me to come into their home.  They were women of stunning beauty; rare and hardly seen.  Dark hair, light hair, blue eyes and brown eyes.  One thing they had in common was their beautiful smiles.

My camera fascinated them as I snapped pictures and showed them the digital photo.  I wished it was as easy as saying, "I’ll bring you a copy."  But we all knew this would likely be our only meeting.

Hashish fields
Time was cut short because we had to keep on walking on our patrol.  This time we could smell our destination before we could see it.

Hashish fields that called for the days of the hippie trail in the 1970s, when there was some sense of innocence to the drug cultivation in Afghanistan. Now looking at the fields you are reminded of the dangerous drug trade ravaging this country and its future.

Sitting on a large pile of marijuana leaves on his tractor, Matiullah the farmer told me that he farms the field for the landowner who lives in the capital of Lashkar Gah.  He makes a small profit but it’s the only way of feeding his family.  He said if he could farm grapes or wheat he would, but this isn’t his land and it isn’t his choice to make that type of decision.

The Marines say that they can’t just destroy the crop because that would take away the farmer’s income.  But they are working with the local farmers in the area, finding other means, and most importantly, creating a rift between them and the militants benefiting from the profits.

One of the Marines asked me if I see this often being in Afghanistan, and I told him that what I see more often in the capital city is not the drug cultivation but more so the effects as the rate of drug addicts continues to rise among the population within the country’s borders.

Cookies and mice
After the patrol one of the soldiers in the camp invited us to tea.  There are only three soldiers on the base living with the Marines and they have a nice setup at the back of a large tent.

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="The kill count board for mice"]

Cpl. David Johnson was the only one remaining, his buddy Stephen just left for Camp Payne and the third soldier was on leave at home.  David was also leaving at midnight to catch his first of many flights heading home for a two-week break.

Having some delicious green tea, David let us rummage through his snack box. I was starving after the patrol.  I scarfed down some beef jerky, trail mix and some homemade cookies he gave us. The homemade cookies were from a woman name Connie Turner from the state of Michigan.  Apparently Mrs. Turner bakes 24,000-48,000 cookies a year and sends it off to the troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.  I was impressed considering I can’t even bake cookies without the store-bought cookie dough.  And to bake 48,000 – wow!

We suddenly noticed a kill count board in the room.  And the number was stacked at 82 (went up to 83 a few hours later).  That is how many mice the three men have been able to catch in their traps since moving into this tent.

And unfortunately after hearing about that, I’ve started to see the mice around the base and in our room; funny how you notice things more once someone tells you it’s there.  I’m just glad that the weather is too cold for the viper snakes to come out and play; or at least I’m hoping it’s too cold …

It was nice to just chat again, which is really one of the best parts about staying at FOB Castle.  Whether it is with the troops, the Afghan government or the village children.  It’s just refreshing to meet new people and get to know them, their motivations and their needs.  Getting a glimpse of humanity in a land of war.

Helmand may be one of the most dangerous places in Afghanistan but for me it is a precious jewel that means so much to so many different people.

soundoff (73 Responses)
  1. desertvoice

    I reiterate what I have been saying all along. The problem appears to be that we are failing to separate, physically and mentally, Afghans from Taliban! When Taliban was defeated in 2001, the distinction was clear. Then, with each passing day, the savvy Taliban began to identify itself with the Afghans, bluring all distinctions. Today, the Afghans themselves seem to not know the difference. This is the crux of the problem. At the outset, only Taliban felt attacked. Now the Afghans have been made to believe that they also are being under attack. This has been exacerbated by the so-called "civilian casualties." There appears to be a great need for government to educate the people! They are not under attack!

    December 29, 2009 at 9:21 am | Report abuse |
  2. Mirwais Popal

    It is much more difficult Jon than you think. Afghanistan is a highly moutainous country with porous birders which makes enoumously difficult to police it. Besides, why would the US spend a million dollar per soldier to stay in Afghanistan? The number of US soldiers deployed in Afghanistan will soon reach to 68000 – costing, approximately, $68 Billion dollars a year. Why do you think they are not willing to end this supremly costly war?

    In 2001 Taliban were defeated because they were an established organisation which it easier to identify, locate and target them. Now they are using gurreilla techniques and hidding among civilians which is very tough to differentiate them. In addition, when the United States initiated bombing Talibans in 2001, people started to feel that they can have a better living standards with the removal of Talibans. However, their expectations are not met and some are even worst off who have started resisting.

    We, Afghans, are aware of our history and what happened during Soviet era in Afghanistan. However, we are optimistic and look forward to find solutions from the situation we are in. We also believe it was right to stop Soviet Union ruling Afghanistan and possibly invading Pakistan.

    December 29, 2009 at 8:28 am | Report abuse |
  3. Brad

    A lot of people in these posts like to talk about the problems and solutions for Afghanistan, when they have no idea what's really going on. It's easy to talk about things when your sitting in a reclining chair, in a heated house, and you can get into your car and drive down the street to buy groceries for your family. Afghan people don't have those luxuries so they do what they need to survive. If you really want to help Afghanistan, support your government and the men and women that are over there now doing their part to help the situation in Afghanistan. Talk is cheap, but actions do so much more.

    December 29, 2009 at 1:28 am | Report abuse |
  4. jon russo

    I say one thing to all those people that do not know their history or about the US foreighn policy, the US used afghanistan as a battle ground to defead the Soveit Union, that was their main goal. jihades, warlord, taliban, freedom fighters, on and on, all those groups was made by (CIA). If US really wants to bring peace in afghanistan they can do it in 2 or 3 days, back in 2001 when US invaded afghanistan it took them less than a week to defead taliban now they having problems with them.

    December 28, 2009 at 9:34 pm | Report abuse |
  5. obayd

    I think mR. Popal means,"... Those lunatics...turn Afghanistan into a safe terror [haven], not heaven for themselves...."

    December 27, 2009 at 11:05 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Scot P.

    Great arcticle- but a field of Hash? C'mon it is a field of Cannabis, which is harvested to make Hashish- I say let them grow all the "WEED' that they want. The world is slowly realizing that making drugs legal, solves a lot of problems.
    Poppy fields are only a problem because it is illegal. People are going to get high, no matter what penalty is placed on it.
    Show the Afghan farmer's how to switch from Poppy to "food crops." Does'nt take a genius to figure this out- if they can make a profit feeding others, they will gladly do it.
    Flood the country with Agriculture EXPERTS – switch the fields to food !!
    Cut off the flow of money to the Taliban- seems very simple to me...
    Put a Governtment in place that helps the people-
    Our troops have to destroy the Taliban... not a simple thing, but very necessary.

    December 27, 2009 at 7:29 pm | Report abuse |
  7. DShirley

    Good reporting.....however one has to wonder that even though the farmer is growing the crop of the owner....who's talking to the absentee landowner on changing up his crops!!??

    haider jalaly: you raise some good points in your post, but how much of the problems are purely of Afghan design?? Tribal fueds and criminal activity by the dominant Pashtun tribal leaders!! When Afghans decide on uniting and wanting a gov't and developed society, they'll get one....otherwise they'll continue to live in desperation and poverty!!

    December 27, 2009 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Mirwais Popal

    Many thanks Atia for providing us with loads of interesting information about Afghanistan.

    I think the USA along with other countries are there to help in creating a prosperous, terror free, industrialist, modern and progressive Afghanistan. As an Afghan, I tremendously appreciate America's efforts in working towards eradicating radicalism, securing Afghan borders and supporting many humanitarian projects. We will certainly all benefit if we can prevent Afghanistan being dominated or ruled by terror harbouring regimes(s) such as the Taliban.

    One of the main concern has been the issue of civilian casualties. However, there has reportedly been some progress in reducing the number of civilian casualties in the past few months. I believe that under the leadership of General Stanley A. McChrystal further progress will be made. I believe he is the right person who is well capable of and qualified to lead the troops in Afghanistan.

    Furthermore, corruption has remarkably been hindering progress. I sincerely hope the institutions of Afghanistan, particularly the justice system, become competent enough to significantly reduce corruption in the country. There has been little progress in terms of scaring officials to stay away from corruption. However, this is not, by no mean, enough and a lot more have to be done.

    I believe we, the Afghans, together with our international partners will win in Afghanistan. Those lunatics who believe that they can turn Afghanistan into a safe terror heaven for themselves will be defeated. However, in order to be successful in Afghanistan we all, Afghan government and international forces, need to be pulling our weights towards one strategic direction and having better collaborations amongst ourselves. We further need stronger managerial systems put in place to straighten monetary accountability in the country.

    December 27, 2009 at 7:13 am | Report abuse |
  9. jelena

    What a great piece of journalism! Great Reporting

    December 26, 2009 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
  10. sediq kakar

    Afghans and American alike are proud of her!

    December 26, 2009 at 1:32 am | Report abuse |
  11. igorota

    Thank you Atia for your great report. Thank you for sharing your exoerience and informing some beauty of Helmand province. Of course there are more things out there noteworthy for reporting. We are looking one day even in our earnest hope towards the stabillization of Afghanistan. One day, the next Afghan woman will again represent Ms. Afghsnistan for the the Ms. Earth pageant in my home country, Philippines. The world ought to see the stunning beauty of the Afghan woman, and I suppose the Afghan men themselves are attractive (ha, ha). Please be safe Ms. Atia and thank you once again for the great report and one more thing, say Hi! to the troops. May they stay safe abd be able to accomplish their mission. May the Almighty keep them all away from harm.

    Igorota, Bgauio City, Philippines

    December 25, 2009 at 6:54 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Jim Snyder

    Great report. So refreshingly unpretentious.
    Aren't you afraid of letting your humanity show like that?
    Thank you.

    December 25, 2009 at 10:45 am | Report abuse |
  13. Afghan from Kabul

    I wish Media broadcast more good things about Afghanistan not only war but beautiful nature of Afghanistan the beautiful mountains rivers people not only hashish and taliban and I would request international community to do more to create jobs in law less provinces so the people could work live in peace, instead of sending thousand of troops they should build roads create jobs, schools so that they people could study and be educated as 30 years of war made th people Illiterate...

    December 24, 2009 at 10:22 am | Report abuse |
  14. desertvoice

    It's Christmas Eve so I am trying to give some good advice. It is being reported that the poor farmers are cultivating other people's land, which obligates them to cultivate poppies against their will. This is serfdom and slavery all in one! People deserve to till their own land! This is indicated as a universal, divine right in John Paul' II's encyclicals Sollicitudo rei socialis and Laborem exercens! My advice is: identify who the owners are. Report their names to President Karzai. Set up a special fund to buy out all land that is illegally cultivated. Sell the land back to the farmers, so that they can grow legitimate crops! Make it all an absolute priority. Enshrine it into law, to be a model for all Afghanistan and the world. This single move will be enough to defeat the Taliban! This is my Christmas message, inspired by the Newborn King!

    December 24, 2009 at 5:15 am | Report abuse |
  15. imran kadha

    We want Afghanis and Americans both out of Pakistan.

    December 23, 2009 at 10:53 pm | Report abuse |
  16. Afghan

    I myself had been to Helmand province in 2007-08. What I saw there was completely different from what we see and hear in the media. Neither opium nor hashish is a bigger problem-but making the people convinced that the foreign troops are there for providing them better life and security. I still remember that when the soldiers would pass by the villagers, they'd murmur in their language; kashki ki zma pa las rasi, chi sar darsa ghwat kam kafira! (I wish, I could capture you alone, so I'd chop your head off, infidel!) with smiles on their faces.
    Lets be a bit realistic!
    They'd never welcome the foreign 'intruders' thundering in their villages.

    December 23, 2009 at 6:21 pm | Report abuse |
  17. jim7893

    Great article! I spent time in Kandahar, Helmand and Kabul in 1971...Hippie Trail and all that...I had opportunity to become involved in a local justice case in Kabul at that time..a good outcome/experience...I remember Kabul at night looking like a jewel set in the Hindu Kush...regulation and taxation of the crop would be the best way to deal with marijuana cultivation...that may get many of the others away from cultivating poppy and opting to grow gov't. controlled pot/hash instead...

    December 23, 2009 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
  18. desertvoice

    Thanks for the enlightening article. Where there are people there is hope. of goodness to triumph. The U.S. soldiers are there to help the people. They go where President Karzai fears to go. They are the ambassadors of a better world. I know that historically it is "not easy for the foreign troops to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people." Still, every effort should be made to empower the soldiers to be good ambassadors to the people of Afghanistan.

    December 23, 2009 at 3:50 am | Report abuse |
  19. AFG

    I agree with igor.. Leave us and let us take our decisions. Super powers, neighbors and other influential..Leave your double standards also..Peace!!

    December 23, 2009 at 2:42 am | Report abuse |
  20. igor

    My opinion, former citizen of Soviet Union, what in report nothing for fundamental problem for US people. SU lost Afganistan, fortunate for SU people. Now US soldiers (sons and daughters) dying in this land.

    Firstly, they have do it for greatest benefits their government or their own (education, public paymenthounorable and so on). By SU soldiers nothing benefits at all. Deputy of commander by politic part had answered them on question “What do we do in Afganistan”
    “We are helping to reflect fraternal people of Afganistan imperialistic aggression”. No many, no benefit only of the zink coffin.

    Woman peeking, children smiling, farmer trying make living growing dgugs, Marines fighting against mouse.
    Trust me, I am regretting,what your government sending best sons of the nation in the bloody land.
    Afgan police never shooting in your own (uselessly train they). In military academy of Soviet Union many different commander of “Tzarandoi” – so –called police Afganistan learned same.
    Many of them fought on side IPA and other party against SU army.
    Afganistan is Islamic country,with their own law and order,with their Line of Durant(biggest problem nearby border),with their attitude to the life and death, with their multiple tribes and clans, brunchs, with their medieval imagination about human beings.
    Truth of Allah in their hearts, war in their blood. Leave, please , them behind. Give them right for self-determination.And going to fight against drugs and terrorism in own coutries.
    Golden future of Afganistan does not coast thousand”s deaths an American people, if certainly they yourselfs want this.

    December 22, 2009 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
  21. desertvoice

    Every place that God made is a precious jewel. It's human evil what makes a place hell. As long as there are some good, decent people in Hellmand, truly mindful of others in need, Hellmand will shine with God's Grace!

    December 22, 2009 at 3:47 am | Report abuse |
  22. Leener

    This is a wonderful piece of unbiased reporting. It paints a picture for those of us who can't be there. One of my Marine buddies just returned from that area and describes it in exactly the same way.

    December 22, 2009 at 12:22 am | Report abuse |
  23. eddie jalalli

    Hey donna whatever the US is doing in afghanistan it is not for people's sake is for their benefits, the United States Of America would not do anything unless its beneficial for them, only and only they know why they are there for. The roads that they build its for their own use to get a around and get the re-sources. So dont be fooled, april fools day not here yet.

    December 21, 2009 at 10:40 pm | Report abuse |
  24. Ericka Duran

    Great reporting,

    Finally some reporting that gives us a nice view of everyday interaction with real people in a place with such turmoil. Thank you Ms. Abawi

    December 21, 2009 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
  25. desertvoice

    I continue to be disappointed with the way President Karzai treats his country. History has shown that the nobility of a supreme leader is measured by his or her willingness to mingle with the ordinary people. Mr. Karzai shows that he is a coward if he is afraid to visit all of Afghanistan provinces. I cannot believe that such trips could not be arranged with the U.S. help. And I wonder what our ambassador in Kabul is doing. He should be pressing Mr. Karzai day and night that he visit his people! All provinces should expect a visit starting January 1st! Otherwise it will be just more of the same: people will never trust a ruler that fears them!

    December 21, 2009 at 6:22 am | Report abuse |
  26. Geoff

    Yeah all those dangerous Hashish addicts depleting Afghanistan's urban areas of rare and precious Doritos (cooler ranch) chips. It's so so so sad to see the effects of this dangerous addiction on the people and lunches of that country.

    December 20, 2009 at 11:55 pm | Report abuse |
  27. Ed Brown

    Polondia... WHAT? "Fighting Russians? U.S. gets most of it's oil from Russia? We're there for the oil pipeline? America's energy needs depend on a pipeline running through Afghanistan?"


    I think you need to get your facts straight. I'm also worried that you must have gone into a coma in 1980 and just woke up. The Cold War is over and this little thing called 9/11 happened in 2001.

    Besides, what does any of that have to do with the article?

    December 20, 2009 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
  28. los angeles albert

    i feel honored by this story, that it isn't just propoganda. the horrors of war are terrifying to us all, and i'm glad that it is understood that we are there to leave a legacy, not as a religious struggle, but as a self-defensive humanitarian effort on our parts. The afghans to me are good people, honorable in that old school way. I feel as if alone, our perceptions are ignorant, but together, here on these postings, our national mood, our global mood, and the mood of the people of afghanistan are represented quite well, as if this were a thesis on an essay, and to be honest, the images i've seen of them, the pushtuns are remarkable. May god bless them, and us, in our struggle to weed out al qaeda. only those that help the workers of the land can help end this. peace.

    December 20, 2009 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse |
  29. Abdullah Ahmadi

    An excellant report prepared by Attia jan. I would like to say a few words regarding my Pashtoon fellow. Unfortunately the none Pashtoons in Afghanist are not treated by their Pashtoon fellows as equal citizons. It was the Pashtoon fellows who brought the Rushians in Afghanistan( The majority of Khalqis and Parchamis in the communist party were Pashtoons). After the defete of the Rushian forces it was Pashtoon Gulbudin who destryed the government infrastructures receiving instruction from ISI. And finally it was Pashtoon Abdul Haq and Pahtoon Karzai who encouraged the Bush administration to invade the country.

    December 20, 2009 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
  30. Jeff McDonald

    Very good story and this images of one patrol. There were several levels to this story related to the children, women, farmer and a brief picture of a marines life where he is standing his duty. This story could easily change depending on the patrol location. Many responders have gotten stuck on the the legal growing and processing of marijuana to hash, and other drug production. Some are read this article and decided to think about how drugs fund the radical movement of the Taliban. How about the blankets for the people and how the people have to change loyalty depending on who is in control. The innocent caught in the middle. This is what the story is about.

    December 20, 2009 at 10:16 am | Report abuse |
  31. Richard Pendoley

    Instead of looking at farmers (who are in one of, the poorest countries on earth,) perhaps it is the united states and eroupes insatiable desire for heroin that really feeds not only the farmers but the taliban and al queida.(please excuse spelling) It seems heartbreaking to see and read about our soldiers and marines who are so selflesly risking thier lives and despite all risk, trying to work with the local pepole.And only looking at our own community, to see really children (teenagers for the most part) litteraly dropping dead from heroin overdoses. Heroin specifically, when i was growing up,(i was born in 1952) was an inner city problem. Now it is everywhere, and seems in some subtle way, accepted by society.As an example, in the united states there is a growing acceptance of drugs being leagalized for medicinal reasons.It only seems, that to find the problem in these poor farmers,who after reading about them only want to support there families,and would by thier own words have often said would rather grow anything else, nonsense.

    December 20, 2009 at 6:48 am | Report abuse |
  32. Pashtuns Advise

    Very nice story,
    Bieng a Pushtoon i can imagine the inside story of Helmand.

    >Yes our childrens do laugh alot, Yes they are still childrens.
    >Yes the womens are of stunning beauty. Beauty, world has never seen.
    >Yes this part of the world is still hundreds of years backwords.
    >Yes the NA is bieng emposed on Pashtoons, and 70% of the soldiers are non Pashtoons. How can they rule Pashtuns since the whole country has never been ruled by any other group but only the Pashtoons.

    The world must understand: "Afghanistan belongs to Pashtuns, they will never give up there homeland."

    The US,The Russians, The British, The Mughals were not defeated when they reached the Afghan borders but they were defeated when they reached the Pashtun areas. The invaders always recieved warm welcome from Uzbeks,Tajiks, Hazaraz and turkmens.

    Realise the fact or face the worst.

    December 20, 2009 at 4:08 am | Report abuse |
  33. Donna

    I wonder if the Afghans who wrote comments here understand that the US is there to help provide security so the AFGHAN people can build their own country and provide for their own people. To demand that the US build roads, schools, create jobs, sewage treatments plants, etc. is just crazy. We are there to provide security and, hopefully, stop the senseless destruction going on in Afghanistan. There is no good reason for the western world to pour money into a country to build roads, schools, etc. if it keeps getting blown up by the Taliban, Al Queda, insurgents, or whatever. We may as well pour the money in a pit and set it on fire. There is rampant corruption of government officials in Afghanistan and providing US taxpayer money so some corrupt Afghan government worker can use it as their personal bank is not my idea of a good use for our tax dollars. We also have problems in the US that our tax money would be better spent on. As heart rending as it is to see children living in their current condition, the Afghan people need to understand that until there is security and stability and corruption is eliminated no business are going to come into Afghanistan and build factories and businesses until they feel their investment can be reasonably protected. It's up to the Afghan people to demand of their government, military, and police to keep the peace and to stop corruption instead of waiting for someone else to do it for them. Trust me on this: The US knows that no matter how hard we try, in the end the people we are trying to help will eventually turn on us. That has yet to fail to happen in any Islamic country we have tried to help. Personally, I am sick to death of our young men and women dying to protect people in other countries and then being vilified for doing so by the very people they have given so much up for. So, when the Afghans, the Iraqis, the Kuwaitis are decrying our existence try to remember it is American blood that has always stepped in to help and never ASKED for anything in return. Just the fact that our brave men and women serve to protect those who are unable to protect themselves and ask for nothing in return makes me proud to be an American.

    December 19, 2009 at 8:36 pm | Report abuse |
  34. rollmyeyes

    Just thinking that if 11/20 of your friends tested positive for alchohol use in the past 7 days would you be so judgmental?

    December 19, 2009 at 8:20 am | Report abuse |
  35. polondia

    Again, why is the US and Nato in Afghanistan and not fighting the Russians like before? Is it the pipline the US and Europeans want to run through Afghanistan the real and only reason?

    America's furture energy needs absolutely depends on that pipline. So does for the EU since much of their energy comes from Russia, like gas.

    December 19, 2009 at 7:34 am | Report abuse |
  36. Rick

    Drugs is not the problem its who controls them... If drug companies controlled the poppy fields no one would ever complain cause they could be moderated and put into pain killers as needed...

    December 19, 2009 at 3:16 am | Report abuse |
  37. mohammad saleem

    thanks Atia for the nice reporting, As an afghan I appreciate people, solders, marines and whoever is there to help my people, the poor people of that country is thirsty of peace, they are fed up of war and fightng. the cmplex politcs of the world has given them nothing but disappointmet. their honest believe and bravery were used against Soviet, they dont want to be used againe by few drug smugglers ( taliban ) for their personnel benefit.

    December 19, 2009 at 1:35 am | Report abuse |
  38. Patricia

    We could help Afghanistan a lot if we legalized marijuana and let the Afghans export it.

    With all the other troubles we have in Afghanistan, with all the other things we're trying to do there, to take on the job of trying to to wipe out a native hashish culture that goes back at least 3000 years, to wipe out a natural nontoxic pain killer in a country where the people don't have access to things like aspirin and acetaminophen - to make some huge military drama out of Afghan pot - it's just stupid and it's an insult to the whole war and everyone fighting it, period.

    The Taliban behead school; teachers, and we're worried about pot?


    December 18, 2009 at 11:29 pm | Report abuse |
  39. Patricia

    Okay first thing - there is no such thing as a field of hashish. Hashish is made out of marijuana. That's marijuana growing in Afghanistan, not hashish.

    Afghans make hashish by shaking off the little oil crystals from the marijuana buds and binding them together into a compressed form.

    Afghanistan has a native hashish culture that goes back around 3000 years at least. It's beyond idiotic to throw out Afghan police candidates who test positive for hashish. It's downright self-destructive.

    One war we're never going to win in Afghanistan is the war against hashish, and if we try to win it, we're going to ruin our chances of helping that country completely.

    Afghans were using hashish to treat the plague back in the 12th century. Marijuana grows wild in the country. Soviet geneticist Nikolai Vavilov even suggested that the region around Afghanistan is where the marijuana plant first evolved.

    There is no war that is as misguided and pointless as the war on weed.

    December 18, 2009 at 11:23 pm | Report abuse |
  40. Ed Brown

    For all those who are trying to shoot holes through the content of this article, realize that the author does not profess to be an authority on the intricacies of the drug trade in Afghanistan, nor does she profess to have expertise on military strategy or politics. She is simply conveying her personal observations and, to some extent, her perceptions and interpretations. Take it for what it is, a view, albeit somewhat narrow, into the day to day lives of the Marines and soldiers operating in Afghanistan. Her purpose is to help, the standard American citizen, so far removed from the experiences of those in the military, to see things through the eyes of those on the ground. Having served in Iraq and Afghanistan, I can say that, to that end, it is an excellent piece of writing.

    What I find most alarming about the comments that have been made, beside the fact that the most critical posters are the ones who display the most ignorance on the topic, is that the citizens of Afghanistan who posted comments have a better grasp of the English language than the American citizens who posted. IM and texting are the beginning of the end for the Queen's English. LOL.

    December 18, 2009 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |
  41. sayed (obayd) kayumi

    I guess I wrote you yesterday too, or maybe I didn't. I just wanted to say that I'm proud of you not only as an Afghan, but also as a humanist. Further, I should say that your writing is not prose, but poetry. Pls continue writing;keep the good work and most important of all, keep safe. Thanks again for what ur doing.

    December 18, 2009 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |

    Great report. To the people complaining about the use of the word "hashish"...please realize where she is and where you are...Yes hashish/mariguana is a problem as she reports...the POOR man (the farmer shown) is not the land owner and has no choice. The land owner, (probably some rich corrupt individual who lives far far away from the area), IS the problem. The rich buy up the land....leave the masses to try to live off of minimum wage...sound familiar... the only difference is..multiply our (so called) plite with our little recession by let's say 150 and you've got the living conditions of these people. But it is nice to lean back in your comfy desk chair with your bag of cheeto's and complain about the writer's description of a plant that has a hundred different names. come on, expand your mind a bit, look at the whole report and see it for what it is. REAL reporting. Good job, and keep it up.

    December 18, 2009 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
  43. Lewis

    Not that anybody asked...

    I thought you did a EXCELLENT job writing this story and giving us a picture of our soldiers lives.

    The only thing I can see wrong is that the website allows comments, and I believe that we have too many stupid people out there with computers to allow comments. Reading the idiot/hate mongers comments (hashish?, Carl, tintala) about hashish, Bush, and etc, almost took away from the great journalism that was behind this story.

    December 18, 2009 at 9:50 am | Report abuse |
  44. Jeff Davis

    Very nice story, David Johnson,Steven Hawkins, and Richard Bettis are my soldiers. Keep up the good work boys. Send me a freaking SITREP LOL. Hey Haider Jalaly, do some research buddy, we are spending Billiaons of dollars to help rebuild Afghanistan. Especially in Helmand. Check out the roads near Delaram. We build the roads, schools, and other infrastructure and the Taliban comes along and plants IEDs that kill Afghans as well as coalition forces. If the Afghans want to be truly free they will start turning in the Taliban that come to their villages and intimidate, beat, and KILL them.

    December 18, 2009 at 7:33 am | Report abuse |
  45. Jesterace

    its a very good read but it seems that real destruction to the life of Afghan people has been done by US Army since they brought in the Northern Alliance! Why don`t people understand that there is no difference between Taliban and NA. NA are not afghan nationalist but a group of war leaders from Soviet war to whom power was denied by the Taliban who atleast had some sort of administration and atleast there was somebody responsible, NA are not liberals or moderates and they are more harsh no women, infact they would force women into prostitution which was something nobody could even speak about in Taliban regime.

    I don't know what is it that the American people paying for in terms of tax money that is spent on this war. You can win the battle in Afghanistan but nobody has ever won a war here, today people are fighting US Army, when US leaves Afghanistan they will start fighting with each other and the round robin goes on,and when that happens Mr.Karzai will again be hiding in Pakistan like he did when the soviets were out to get him.

    December 18, 2009 at 1:52 am | Report abuse |
  46. Tahera

    I would like to thank Miss Atia for getting into deep of Afghanistan broken heart and highlighting the situation out there. I as an afghan citizen can feel every world you wrote about people up there, specially the children and hidden women. I believe on addition of skeptical eyes of those afghans, you might have missed to write that they also have thousands of hope in a corner of their broken heart that soldiers are here to help us, and expect that things are going to get better and soldiers existence will give strength to the poor families that Taliban can not come to kill or tread them badly.

    December 18, 2009 at 1:33 am | Report abuse |
  47. Greg

    Thank you for your perspective, being there in real life..... Im sure it is a hard time for all. You,the soldiers, and the ones who live there. I love your writing!

    December 17, 2009 at 9:00 pm | Report abuse |
  48. haider jalaly

    Im an afghan I know my people they have been fighting for the last almost forty years
    All they ever know is war, killings, hanger, and distructions, and they have a history of not
    liking the outsiders so there is no way, again no way that they will ever lose the war. So my advise to world is this instead of sending more troops and wapeans they should:
    build the roads, houses, factories, creat jobs, show the people that the world community cares for their lives and futures. instead of using them. otherwise the world community one day will have the tails between their legs and leave afghanistan just like the soviet union.

    December 17, 2009 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
  49. sayed (obayd) kayumi

    Wow, Atia jan! It's not prose what you've written; it's poetry. I wish the situation were different. In that case I'd've said I enjoyed it. Pls write more and keep safe.

    December 17, 2009 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
  50. EliteAfg

    This is a great report!
    Finally a little something different and joyous from all the other reports you see in the media. Ms. Abawi thank you for the great work you do and please be safe!

    December 17, 2009 at 7:15 am | Report abuse |
  51. Robert in North Carolina

    tintala: I would say that hashish is the least of YOUR worries, but not the least of the worries of the farmer written about by the author. Again, the writer doesn't imply that hashish is the cause of anything other than this farmer's lousy situation.

    December 16, 2009 at 11:38 pm | Report abuse |
  52. Deb Jay

    Thank you for your narrative. My nephew has been in Helmand Province for the last few weeks. I think of him all the time and wonder what his life is like. I hope he is seeing the smiling faces of children as well.

    December 16, 2009 at 10:00 pm | Report abuse |
  53. Monica Plata

    My husband is a Marine and was deployed to the Helmland a couple of years ago. While there was fighting there was also bonding going on with the people. He still misses the people of Afghanistan and would definitely go back in a heart beat.

    December 16, 2009 at 8:45 pm | Report abuse |
  54. tintala

    Ok comon now, HASHISH is the pROBLEM? HAHAHAHAHAH LOL delusions of a archaic war and archaic way of thinking, The reporter and the military wishes it was the hash ,,, can you say OPIUM? I mean , hash is the least of anyones worries. Why blame it cannabis when you have millions of acres of poppies?

    Propaganda at it's best. the words of HENRY ANSLINGER live on to this day, when he testified in Supreme Court in 1937 saying that " marijuana is the new H***......
    its' been illegal ever since.

    December 16, 2009 at 6:03 pm | Report abuse |
  55. Ed Cook

    Gosh, Atia! After having read your story I came away feeling that I'd just had a just been spoken to by a real live human being and not the plasticized product of a spin doctor.
    You enjoy your work, don't you? You like people, too. It comes through in your writing. It's nice to hear it reaffirmed that our guys and gals aren't just killing machines cutting a swath through people they don't know.

    Take good care. Be safe as you can. I look forward to your next article.


    December 16, 2009 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
  56. Carl

    Read 'Seeds of Terror' to get an idea of the scope of the drug problems in this area. Thanks mostly to the 2 Bush presidents, we are left with a lawless area, full of opium and money and routes to ship the drugs. That money is made by/supports the Taliban.

    December 16, 2009 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
  57. michaelsteeves

    simple solutions, for simple problems.... convert the pot plants, back into the old Hemp plant. whole new industry from the plant, to the finished product. putting those people back to work, farming,as they have for thousands of years. And, may i add. How many people, in hellman,have a licence,2 groww , for the big companys, in the bussniess of opium? last time i looked, there was like 15000 people that legally grow.Just for the corporations.After all, we need our morphine, t 3s etc. everyone wants to takee care of there family;s. so most work. the job,is one of love.But, the profit,in the end ,is the motavation. so the product,and industry,would work there. there is a good dollar in hemp,just as in opium.they al ready no how 2 grow pot, and as we all no. Hemp don;t get ya high. But,ya can wear it, Heat with it,Light the lamp with, Eat it, Write on it,Write with,and all kinds of things,like breath. It allso is very big on giveing off air. Who;da thunk it mike

    December 16, 2009 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
  58. Rob

    FOB Castle is a interesting place indeed. The Marines there live in squalor and filth, but have a great attitude. They are an impressive bunch of people. I spent 2 weeks there the end of Sept this year helping to organize police training. Shout out to 2nd MP Co. Great job and safe travles.

    December 16, 2009 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
  59. Robert in DC

    My younger brother is a US Marine serving in the Helmand Province. Thank you for bringing to light some aspects of their daily life there.

    December 16, 2009 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
  60. Marine Wife

    my husbands going to afghanistan soon like in the next couple days and i'm really wish they would just bring out troops home...

    December 16, 2009 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
  61. Mara

    Thank you for writing this. My husband is one of the Marines stationed at the castle and it is so good to hear about what they are doing there from an outside perspective.

    December 16, 2009 at 11:15 am | Report abuse |
  62. D. Johnson

    Great reports..thanks for allowing me to enjoy you and your crews company, it was a nice change of pace.

    December 16, 2009 at 4:23 am | Report abuse |
  63. yosufi


    December 16, 2009 at 4:15 am | Report abuse |
  64. Curious Observer

    haha, as I go along the days of this blog, more people seem to have noticed it. I'm glad. These are extremely interesting reports with first hand accounts of the people and the soldiers and how they feel about each other. Maybe more media personnel should do this throughout Afghanistan. It does give you a feel for how the war is progressing.

    CorrectMeNot: I believe you would be correct if you were talking about it in American terms, but in Afghanistan, the military and the people just call it hashish as far as I can tell. I've heard it several times while watching videos of soldiers in Afghanistan. One was referring to the Afghan military smoking "hashish" while they were in a firefight alongside American forces. But really it was just a fat joint off what we would all call weed. I'm not sure why they use the word for the condensed powder for it. Maybe we've been using it wrong this whole time?

    As for the police forces being corrupt or inept or on drugs or whatever, that seems to be a problem at the higher levels or a failure of training or somewhere along the lines of bureacracy in the Afghan government that put them there. That seems like a good place to focus on fixing the systemic problems of the country. If the people can trust the police and the government then we can actually leave it to the government to provide basic services to the people.

    December 16, 2009 at 3:48 am | Report abuse |
  65. Adam85

    Wow seriously good reporting. I'm glad I found this.. Truly excellent, reporting it simply as it is, without any murky agenda. Now if only someone would ell the good people of certain other outlets that...

    December 16, 2009 at 12:36 am | Report abuse |
  66. Prof Ramesh Manghirmalani

    Excellent Report by Ms Abawi

    December 15, 2009 at 9:19 pm | Report abuse |
  67. Elke, Germany

    Great report, also the two you posted the last days about Helmand province. I appreciate the rpeorts, because for most people here, Afghanistan means only Kabul and Karzai.
    But to understand what´s going on there we have to realize how complex the situation is in Afghanistan. To see that living in Kabul doesn´t mean the same as living in a small town or village in Helmand province.
    Also to see that´s not easy for the foreign troops to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people.
    Afghanistan has so many problems, I think it´s not easy to decide where to start resolving them.
    My question is, when the US and Nato troops will have reached a stabilisation of Afghanistan and start to leave, will the ANA and ANP be able to provide security for the Afghan people? Has Afghanistan the politicans to lead the country?
    I´m looking forward to read more.
    Best wishes

    December 15, 2009 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
  68. icebreaker

    if 11 out of 20 (ANP) tested positive for drug use,then the problem is not the officers. It's where they get them from and besides,if it's so mutch of a problem why not burn the drugs field instead of letting them grow it and stand by and cry WOLF...

    December 15, 2009 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
  69. Sally in Ormond Beach

    My nephew is a Marine Captain serving in Helmand Province. I've been scared to death for him but he excels at capturing hearts and minds. This article calmed me somewhat because at least some of the time, peace is possible. Thank you for the report Ms. Abawi. Sorry about the mice.

    December 15, 2009 at 12:31 pm | Report abuse |
  70. CorrectMeNot

    Thank you for the report. I would like to correct one thing. 'Cannabis fields' would be the correct term, hashish is a product made from cannabis. It is no more correct to call a field of barley or hops 'beer' than it is to call a field of cannabis 'hashish'.

    December 15, 2009 at 12:31 pm | Report abuse |
  71. Robert in North Carolina

    Hashish?: The writer wrote about what she saw. She saw hashish (among other things) and reported on its impact on one farmer (he can't grow anything else because the land isn't his). You seem to imply that hashish is not a problem because opium and heroin have more impact overall than hashish. The writer doesn't come close to implying that hashish is a 4 billion dollar trade; that came from your jerking knee. Still, as can be seen from this farmer's plight, hashish is indeed a problem for him and his family. The problems there are not so black and white as you would have us believe, and this report deepens our understanding of the complexities there without resorting to judgement or bias of any kind. I think it's a fine, rich report and I will look for more from this writer.

    December 15, 2009 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
  72. Hashish?

    Hashish is NOT THE PROBLEM.

    Do you really think the 4 billion dollar drug trade comes from HASH?

    It is HEROIN that is fueling the insurgency. Great reporting.

    December 15, 2009 at 10:46 am | Report abuse |
  73. Robert in North Carolina

    To read an unbiased portrait such as this is refreshing after having read so many "spun" stories for months/years. Thank you for your objectivity. I actually feel enlightened!

    December 15, 2009 at 8:19 am | Report abuse |