CN: What is your perception of the Afghan people? Were they different than what you expected?
MH: Not really. In the north, the Afghans are more educated and less religious. And in the south, many of the Afghans are farmers who live day by day.
CN: What is the tribal structure like in Afghanistan?
The tribal structure in Afghanistan is in a lot of ways more important than the political beliefs of officials in office. In the south, I am not so sure about the tribes. In the north, people would normally support a tribemate more than a person who believed in the same values as the individual person. Getting around that is difficult but not impossible.
CN: What is Afghanistan like in terms of its climate and terrain? Did it have an effect on the way you carried out your missions?
MH: [The conditions are] different all over the country, which is the size of Texas. In the north, winters are harsh and can last over several months. In the south, summers are very harsh and temperatures never dropped below 90 degrees, including the night temperature. During the day, there was no shade and it was usually 120 degrees and the desert had no water except for a few water holes. We were a team that normally carried out missions in HMMWV’s and would only go on foot once we got to terrain that would allow our vehicles to go forward. With that said, the climate didn’t really have an effect on the way we carried out missions.
CN: How skilled is the Taliban as a fighting force? What kind of tactics does it use?
MH: The problem with the Taliban and many of its soldiers is the fact that they don’t have any military training, so they are limited in the way they fight the war. Their main tactics are “shoot and scoot,” which means they would shoot at us for a couple minutes and then retreat to fight another day, and “spray and pray,” which means that they would just shoot blindly under cover and hope that we get hit. Not all of them fight like that, but it is common to see this battle plan used.
CN: Did you ever have to change your tactics to deal with the Taliban’s unorthodox fighting style?
MH: Even though the Taliban fought guerilla style warfare, we did not change our tactics in fighting. We had superior weaponry and equipment, added with the fact we usually had numbers on them. We still continued firing on the target area and pushed through the objective until the Taliban were either KIA [killed in action] or retreated.
CN: When you were on PMT Viper, how long did it take to teach an Afghan to become a police officer? Do you feel that when the recruits finished the training program, they were ready to take on the Taliban?
MH: When Afghan men volunteer for the ANP, they are sent to ANP Boot Camp, usually in a big city, for a certain period of time. When they finish that, they are sent to their posts, where it then becomes the responsibility of the PMT teams to make sure that cops are up to par and capable of doing the job required of them.
For us, this meant we taught them how to become better marksmen, went on combat missions with them and, when possible, we taught them the proper tactics of fighting. Basically we taught them everything we could because they are going to be the ones fighting the Taliban after the U.S. leaves.
CN: In general, did it seem as though Afghan civilians support the U.S. effort? What do most Afghans think of the Taliban?
MH: Most of the Afghans support the American effort – for the sole purpose that we are better than what the Taliban did when they were in power. Many of the ANP cops that we fought with had family members who were killed by the Taliban, and women as a whole are very anti-Taliban because of the anti-women stance that the Taliban has.
The Afghans will be happy when the U.S. is no longer needed in Afghanistan, but they are in no rush for us to leave. Just like I mentioned earlier, in the north the U.S. has complete support and in the south, there is not as much support.
CN: If you were asked to go back to Afghanistan, would you go?
MH: If I were asked to go back to Afghanistan, I would most definitely go. There are many reasons why I would go back. First and foremost, the mission is not over and I had many friends who did not come back with us. I do not want to see that their deaths would be in vein.
Secondly, the friendships that I made in the year I spent over there are going to last a lifetime. It is true that when the bullets start flying, the only thing that soldiers care about is the guy next to you. We put the safety of our teammates in front of our own.
Thirdly, even though it was tough being away from home, the time spent with the team flew by. As long as I could be with guys like the ones I was with, and doing a job that I believed in, I wouldn’t even think twice about going back to Afghanistan.