Afghanistan is a complicated place. Ajmal (pronounced Ash-mal’), my interpreter is the sole bread winner for his family. His father was a Colonel in the Army and was killed by the mujahideen in the 80’s during the struggle against the Russians for Afghanistan. The Russians were doing what we’re doing now, although using different sometimes brutal tactics, and his father was part of that new establishment. I’m very aware that since America supported the mujahideen (as the enemy of our enemy) in their victory over the Russians, we were also partly responsible for his father’s death. He’s been working with the American’s here at the Kabul Military Training Center (KMTC) for 4 years now, since the Special Forces were here. The Taliban and al-Qaeda used this facility, and my office is next to the one used by Osama bin Laden. My counterpart, Lieutenant Colonel Shamsuddin (pronounced Sham’ su-deen) was mujahideen, as was Osama bin Laden until 1988. Twenty years ago, we all may have been on different sides, but today we’re all working for the same cause. Ajmal feels that his father was also supporting the same cause, working for a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan, and doesn’t see the shifting alliances as odd. I’m glad, because we have to trust each other completely and at times he’s closer to my rifle than I am. As the oldest, he’s supporting his Mother, two sisters and brother through his job translating and interpreting for the coalition. At 26, he earns as much as a General in the Army and it would be impossible to do my job without him. We believe his mother is dying of cancer and he’s running the household, while funding his siblings’ education. It’s a significant burden, but in typical Afghan fashion, he thinks nothing of it.

Shamsuddin laughs at me when I discuss danger or any current fighting. He tells me this isn’t fighting. Fighting was just after the Americans came in in October 2001, with hundreds of Soldiers pushing from one mountain to the next, with bombs exploding in front and behind you. Shamsuddin’s background is artillery, so he really does have expertise in blowing things up. As a tie in with current events, Mullah Obaidullah who was just captured in Pakistan, had been his prisoner in November 2001. He had tied him up, and was in the process of gathering information when he received the order not to hurt him, since he was a mullah (or member of the clergy). Ismullah Khan, the warlord then governor of Herat (on the western edge of Afghanistan) finally directed Shamsuddin to release him. Mullah Obaidullah later negotiated the surrender of the Taliban to the Northern Alliance in 2002. Ismullah Khan is now the Minister of the Interior.

We had a great clothing and food drive last Saturday, and I’m trying to get the story printed in the Jacksonville Times-Union to thank everyone for our success. Several tons of donations were sent, including some from our friends children’s birthday parties, Southside Methodist, Episcopal Middle School, Boy Scout Troop 106 and others, the Girl Scouts Gateway Council, Burdette Ketchum, and Watson Realty, among others. We went to a refugee village near us, where 185 families who’ve been displaced by war are living. An international organization also allowed us to deliver 2 tons of rice, flour, and other food items, making this the most successful relief mission I’ve participated in. As you can see from the photos it was snowing like crazy, which made it more fun, and a bit safer since the poor visibility kept others from seeing us as a target of opportunity. The first photo is of me with some of the kids. In the second, I’m posing with one of the village elders in front of the village

Everything’s fine here, and again we really appreciate the support, care packages and prayers. If you’ve missed updates you’d like to read, surf to www.jonsingleton.com to read past updates, see the pictures and to post comments. Feel free to forward this to anyone who may be interested. If an email of your’s is kicked back by my SPAM filter, just resend with the word “ADD” in the subject line, and I’ll receive it. Raise a cup of Starbuck’s for me, and I’ll hurry home