Death and Idiocy in the Arghandab River Valley


The Arghandab River Valley

US Army Captain Paul W. Pena died in the Arghandab River Valley January 19, 2010. He was 27 years old.

As a skinny teenager in the Junior ROTC program at San Marcos Baptist Academy in San Marcos, Texas, he worked quietly behind the scenes, ensuring that the unit’s annual inspection and other events went smoothly.

He rose to the rank of cadet major and graduated from the academy fifth in his class in 2000, said school spokeswoman Shelley Henry. Then he attended the military academy at West Point, graduating in 2004.

A teacher at the San Marcos academy, Max Smith, recalled Pena as a diligent, well-behaved boy. “He always came back here and let you know he was OK and that he appreciated all you’d done for him.”

Every week I read through the WashPo’s brief obituaries of US soldiers killed in Afghanistan, and try to understand something about the particular neighborhood of that God-forsaken country where each of them perished. But there isn’t much information online about the Arghandab River Valley.

The entry in Wikipedia repeats an article from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica verbatim.

There is a good deal of cultivation along the river, but few villages. The high road from Kabul to Kandahar passes this way (another reason for supposing the Tarnak to be Arachotus), and the people live off the road to avoid the onerous duties of hospitality.

People lived off the road to avoid the onerous duties of hospitality in 1911. And now they host the US Army!

Captain Pena represents the nobility of military service. The idiocy of it is represented by U.S. Lt.-Col. John Newman, who arrived in Arghandab River Valley in August 2009

U.S. Lt.-Col. John Newman was assigned to directly command the Arghandab troops. He began speaking slowly, carefully, his translator jumping in with words in Dari. There was consternation and shuffling among the elders. Then a whispered conference with Newman.

The translation should have been in Pashto, the local language, not Dari, also known as Eastern Persian, which is commonly spoken in central and northern Afghanistan.

It was just a mistake, you might say, but it was also a mistake that Lt.-Col. John Newman and his “translator” could not have made if they had ever spoken to anybody who lives in the Arghandab River Valley, before Lt.-Col. John Newman began yammering at the local elders.