Mission Afghanistan: Foot patrol in Charikar - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Mission Afghanistan: Foot patrol in Charikar

Charikar, Afghanistan - August 17, 2010

Armed with machine guns and dressed in body armor, Vermont Guard soldiers leave the Afghan Police headquarters in Charikar, Afghanistan, heading out on a 3-mile foot patrol around the city. The soldiers are strategically spread out to minimize casualties if there's an attack. This is routine; a common duty for Vermont soldiers. The foot patrols are a way to maintain a presence in Charikar. They're also a way to give and get information.

On this day, Vermont soldiers hand out fliers alerting residents to a new radio station in the area that broadcasts emergency information in their language, Dari. A handful of radios are also given to residents. But this is also an information-gathering mission. Earlier in the day, three loud explosions were heard in the city. The Vermont Guard soldiers try to get details about exactly where the blasts came from and who may be responsible. They use translators, mostly Afghan nationals. But residents in Charikar are reluctant to say anything about the explosions, most claim they didn't hear or see anything.

Translator Ahmad Nazari works with Vermont Guard soldiers. He and his family left Afghanistan and were refugees in Pakistan until U.S. troops arrived in Afghanistan. The family then returned to their homeland.

"I'm too happy about that now," Nazari said.

Nazari says there's a generational divide in parts of Afghanistan and that's apparent during this foot patrol. Afghan children often give a thumbs up, some even shout "thank you" in English.

Through a translator, one middle-aged resident who lived in a rural part of Charikar says this was not a safe place before U.S. troops arrived. "Yes, it was war in here. It was fighting in here."

But some older Afghans are hesitant to show support. And some are simply sick of convoys and foot patrols through Charikar, especially in the village center. Some Vermont soldiers call this Afghanistan's version of Church Street in Burlington; vendors at the marketplace offer shoppers produce and handmade goods.

One group of young Afghan men gave Vermont soldiers a bit of grief as they walked by, but said and did nothing violent.

One street vendor said the vehicle convoys can be disruptive to business. But Vemonters say they have made this war-torn city safer. Asked if having U.S. soldiers there has hurt or helped business the vendor says through a translator said while it's disruptive to business while it's happening, overall business is up. "It's helping. Being the U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan is helping us on our business."

"We are focusing on the next generation," Col. Will Roy said.

Col. Roy is Vermont's top commander in Afghanistan. He says the National Guard is putting extra effort into helping younger people. The guard recognizes that some older Afghans may never agree with the U.S.-led effort in Afghanistan and directs Vermont soldiers to help a younger population here succeed.

"If you think about it, the older people have grown up under years of terror, whether it's the Soviets, the Taliban or the Civil War. They have known nothing but strife," Roy said. "But you can focus on the next generation which will be the true leaders of this country. That's what they are doing out there every day."

Through foot patrols like this and other interactions-- hoping to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people.

Darren Perron - WCAX News

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