I don’t know where or how they shot the Indian Jones films, but I’ve been in a couple of places/situations right out of those movies.
First, a couple of stories from my The Vietnam War Its Ownself and then finally something from the more recent past.
(Shortly before the evacuation end April 1975). ”I left the consulate with Sarge at the end of a long workday and we went to the Delta Club for dinner. Glenn R., one of the senior officers at the base, was the club manager. For weeks, he had almost given away all the perishable items. A T-bone steak dinner with a bottle of good wine cost less than a dollar. Mac joined us and the three of us had a feast. In pain from overeating, I returned to my apartment before curfew and went to bed early.
The first explosion jarred the apartment building, and I was awake immediately. Several more explosions followed. I decided that the explosions were on the other side of the consulate, and my apartment wasn’t in danger. Jim D., the CIA base chief, came on the handheld radio and called Don K., a CIA case officer like Sarge, me and Glenn, who was on duty in the base area of the consulate. Don said that the explosions were artillery rounds landing in the shanty area down the road.
Jim asked for a head count. As we were calling in, Don broke in to say that a fire had started near the impact area. It was growing fast and coming toward the consulate.
With almost everyone accounted for, Jim received a preliminary report from a base asset at General Hung’s headquarters. The South Vietnamese military’s best guess was that the VC were firing rockets randomly into town as harassment.
Don came back on the radio and said the fire was building in intensity. He could feel the heat when he opened one of the rear windows by Phyllis’s desk. We heard several more explosions.
I got up, dressed, and went to the roof of the apartment building. The flames raging beyond the consulate were higher than any building in the area. The street below was becoming clogged with people trying to get away. Sirens went off on the other side of my building as fire trucks tried to make their way through the mob.
The wind was swirling and tossing around ashes and bits of charred wood. The fire was so intense that it was pulling air into it but a natural breeze was blowing our way, and the wall of flames was leaning in our direction. There was no doubt that the fire was heading toward the consulate.
Several helicopters with searchlights passed over. The noise from the street below competed with the loud popping from the fire.
Glenn lived in an apartment immediately across from the consulate. He confirmed to Jim over the radio that the fire appeared to be heading in their direction.
Don, knowing Glenn lived close by, said, “Ah, good to know I’m not alone in this part of town.”
I said that I was also nearby.
Glenn volunteered to go across the street to help Don. Jim told the radio communicator and me to join them so that, if the consulate had to be abandoned, we could shred the files in the vault and remove or destroy the communications equipment.
The fire was getting closer, Don said, and the building was getting hotter.
I went down to the street level, and the guard in front of the building helped me open the door against the screaming people outside. Suddenly, I was out in the middle of the masses. I was initially carried away up the street before I got my feet under me and began pushing my way against the crowd. It was like swimming up a raging river. If I stopped pushing forward, I was swept back. People were carrying personal items on bikes and carts, on top of their heads, in baskets. Children were screaming. Several pedicabs, filled with household items, were mixed in with the crowd. An armored personnel carrier, leading fire trucks, came down the street. Sirens were wailing. People were screaming.
The guard at the front gate of the consulate helped me get inside and pushed away people who were trying to get in through my legs. Glenn had already arrived, after a struggle just to get across the street. In time, the communicator also arrived.
It was hot in the base offices and even hotter near the rear windows. The fire covered the whole skyline to the west. Ash swirled around the building. We heard loud popping and burning noises. Sirens were still going off pell-mell in the street over the roar and screams of the crowd.
The communicator went into the commo room and Don, Glenn, and I went into the vault and began shredding the personnel files on the most sensitive of the active operations in the Delta. We had a sense of urgency and moved quickly and quietly. Periodically, we ventured out of the vault to look at the fire. It was still intense, but, as we finished the shredding, it did not appear to be gaining on the consulate.
Don went down to the commo room to help the communicator prepare items to be destroyed or removed.
After he left, Jim called and told us to destroy the money in the safe. The finance officer gave us the combination over the radio. Soaked in sweat, we went into the finance office where, against the near wall, sat an old black Wells Fargo-type safe, with a safe dial on one of the double doors and a heavy brass handle on the other. We tried the combination and pushed the handle down after spinning the dial for the final turn. Slowly, we opened the doors and there — from the bottom to the top of the safe — were stacks of money.
Glenn whistled and we both stared inside the safe. I was squatting on my heels, mouth open. I had never before seen that much money in one place — U.S. tens, twenties, and hundreds, plus Vietnamese piasters. A person could work hard all his life and never make the amount of money that was on even one shelf in that safe. It was a sight right out of Hollywood, a CIA safe filled with money.
We could hear the popping from the fire, moving towards us. I wiped sweat from my forehead, still sitting on my haunches, staring at a million dollars or so we were asked to destroy.”
Real life, … me and Glenn… sure ‘nough… Indiana Jonesing.
What actually happened here is that the raging fire died down before it reached the consulate. We had placed the money in two 55 gal drums specifically made to incinerate classified material. So after the sun rose in the morning and the finance officer arrived, we nodded towards the drums and – as we were leaving for a few hours’ sleep back at our apartments – we saw him re-stacking the money in the safe.
All we actually took was the thought that for a few hours there, me and Glenn were honest to God millionaires in the Temple of Doom.
Then later in The Vietnam War Its Ownself:
”Our original support officer had recently left to take his family out of the country and was replaced by an officer from one of the abandoned CIA bases to the north. When the old support officer departed, he left all the keys to the supply warehouses with Phyllis, the base secretary. She tried to get the new man to take them but he told her to get rid of them herself.
“Get rid of them?” she asked, not knowing exactly what that meant.
“We’re only twelve here now. We aren’t running any operations. We don’t need supplies. I’m busy. Help me here.” And he walked away from her desk.
She was standing there, looking down at the pile when the Sarge and I – who had been standing off to the side – told her we’d take care of them for her. We raked the well-marked rings of keys, plus a book listing safe combinations, off her desk and into a shoe box.
“Whoever owns these keys,” I said, “Owns what’s inside those warehouses.”
Phyllis said, “I don’t bloody care. I just want to clear my desk. Thank you.”
There were a lot of keys, maybe a hundred. Glenn, as head of the Delta club, was aware of an impressive amount of supplies on hand in the warehouses. He was the custodian of a few of the storage bins that held equipment that had been passed down from club to club. During the height of the war, when hundreds of thousands of American troops, officials, and contract workers had been in Vietnam, there were clubs in every province — there were USAID clubs, officers’ clubs, enlisted clubs, Special Forces clubs, MACV clubs, private engineering company clubs, hospital clubs, and so on. As the Americans began to pull out, various clubs were consolidated, and the best items, including jukeboxes, slot machines, bar accessories, dart boards, restaurant equipment, lights, signs, and stereo components were turned over to the consulate clubs that remained. As the last club in the Delta, Glenn’s was the proprietor of the primo of primo equipment left behind. Other merely very good bar equipment was stored in the warehouses.
So, if there was so much interesting stuff just from the clubs, who knew exactly what else was out there in the warehouses. We could only image all of the sexy CIA stuff that we would find.
When we arrived at the compound, the guard at the gate wanted to see some identification. We showed him our embassy badges, but he said it was a restricted area and we needed special permission to get inside. We fished around in the box of keys until we found the badge of the departed logistic chief, which satisfied the guard. He waved us through.
We drove up and down past the dozen or so warehouses as we tried to reconcile the building numbers with the tags on the keys. Finally, we stopped and opened one warehouse with a key that was clearly marked. It was an armory filled with weapons — crates of carbines, M-16s, Swedish Ks, AK-47s. In a fenced off area were special sniper rifles with scopes and long lethal looking barrels. There were pistols with silencers and pistols that converted into rifles and concealed weapons. In an adjourning warehouse, we found knives, machetes, night vision equipment, more scopes, binoculars, and web gear.
“It’s all ours, Sarge, all ours,” I said. “I think that when I was a Boy Scout, if I had known there would be a chance to go through something like this and pick out anything I wanted, I couldn’t have waited. You know what I mean? I would have been anxious all my life to get here. Is this a boy’s dream or what?”
There were refrigerated warehouses and air-conditioned warehouses. We discovered electronics equipment — what looked like hundreds of different types of radios — projectors, furniture, typewriters, pool tables, linoleum tile, baby cribs, kitchen stoves, furniture, generators, crystal, silverware, maps, uniforms, books, Bibles, and hundreds of unmarked boxes. Some with US Navy markings, some with USA, some USG… many with no listing of the items within.
One warehouse on the incline down to the river in the back of the compound, was more of a go-down, in that the flooring was partially below the street level. It was full of wooden boxes of stuff… all of these unmarked on the outside as far as we could see… several front-end loaders were parked in the isles between rows and rows of stacked large wooden boxes.
It was exactly like the fade to black ending scene in the Raiders of the Lost Ark, a long shot of a warehouse full of boxes of unknown riches.
Then years later, I got to know Zaranj, Afghanistan. An Indiana Jones environment.
Let’s do a map study on the place. Take a good look below.
Zaranj is in the tri-border area of Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan. In the left bottom of the map is Dubai, one of the riches cities in the world, where people just naturally do deals. Where there’s all type of money that can get anything done in the region.
Down the Gulf of Oman to the east of Dubai is the Iranian port of Chabahar. The only deep water port in Iran, it was partially built by India in the 1990s to provide access to Afghanistan and Central Asia, bypassing Pakistan.
Hard to tell what goes on there now, because India’s plan to do an end around the high tariffs of Pakistan didn’t really take off. In fact it’s hard to find any evidence of goods being moved from Chabahar up to Zahedan, Iran and then to Zaranj and up to Delaram… Delaram being a way station on the inter-Afghanistan road that circles the country.
Most of the equipment India used to improve the road from Chabahar up to Delaram were eventually stockpiled in Ghur Guri in the shadow of a massive, abandoned concert factory. Ghur Guri was the results of some US State Department program of years and years ago with streets and neighborhoods laid out across arid countryside. Now in 2010 it was mostly abandoned along with the rusting old Indian road building equipment and the haunted silent concert factory towers.
On the east side of the map is Kandahar, Afghanistan and to the south of that Quetta, Pakistan. These two large significant cities lie on both sides of the Bolan Pass which was once the only gateway from Central Asia to South Asia. The Al Qaeda terrorist organization is big in Quetta. The Taliban is big in Kandahar. Both Al Qaeda and the Taliban are not nice people.
Then notice that part of the Iranian/Afghan border above Zahedan that loops east so that the marshy lakes just barely shown on the map are part of Iran. This area is the old Sistan empire, that once ruled this part of the world. Here they speak their own brand of Persian and generally answer to their tribal war lords, rather than Tehran.
And notice that straight border that runs from Zaranj down to the tri-border area and Zahedan, Iran. That is owned by a member of the Afghan border police who is ostensibly responsible to the province governor in Zaranj, but who has the reputation of owning this particular part of the border. It is his, and though he is Boluch, he is, by reputation, not beholden to anyone. He has life and death control of that part of God’s good earth. There are no known instances where anyone has done anything along this part of the border that this Afghan police official hasn’t allowed.
Now take a look at this map below of the area controlled by Bolush tribesmen.
Notice that this tribal homeland includes the Baloshistan Province of Pakistan that extends to the east side of Quetta. And it also includes area inside Iran that encompasses the Sistan and Baluchestan Provinces. The Bolush are Sunni. Iran is predominately Shite. The Boluch terrorist group is known as the Jundallah, and they have declared war on Iran. Terrorist war. Over the past 15 years they have killed hundreds of Iranians in terrorist attacks in this southeast corner of Iran, and are considered a terrorist organization by the US. As recently as February 2015, they have thrown their lot in with ISIS. These are seriously bad people.
And they own the land on both sides of that road the Indians built hoping to gain access to the Delaram gateway unto the Afghan ring road.
Y’all following me here.
Now let’s throw in the information from the following map.
You’ll notice that there is more opium grown in the area west of Zaranj than anywhere else in Afghanistan, and this opium provides a goodly amount of the world’s supply. There are those who deal in the opium. There are those who deal in the precursor chemicals to cook opium down into heroin. There are those who buy this heroin, and there are people who move chemicals, dope and money around. The people involved in this drug trade have to out-mean the locals to survive. And they do… they have been developing their meanness for a long time. Anything out of the ordinary happen while they go about their business, they do not temporize. They will kill you in a second.
Now also consider this. The Afghan people go into Iran, like Latinos into the US, to get work. They do all the menial labor in Iran. All the tough, low paying farm work. All the mining. The construction work. There are legions of these illegals passing through Zarang almost every 24 hours. They will take a bus down from Delaram and spread out into any number of flop house that pass for Zaranj hotels, make contact with human smugglers, aka coyotes, in the local market and for a negotiated price book an escorted trip across the border. Sometimes pre-arrangements have been made by a human smuggler to send a worker into Iran, who will pay for their trip in to work in Afghanistan at an enormously inflated price later, as they finish their work. They fail to pay, the coyote will kill the person’s mother back in Afghanistan.
These illegals are usually led at night north of Zaranj out towards the marshy lake area and then south where Iranian taxis and trucks and buses are waiting to take them into the Iranian interior.
Sometimes they have to make their wide way around open area markets that would be set up on the Sistan border, near the marshes, where traders of all kind buy and sell everything. Rifles, mines, young virgins, everything.
While these people are coming and going in the night, in the daytime overland goods are being moved from Iran into Afghanistan for resale – or for finishing work by cheap Afghan labor… to be brought back into Iran as finished goods.
And then there is this. Sometime things happen in Zaranj just without any explanation, and some say it is because of the abundance of smaller tribes in the area. Tribes do not allow for inter-marriage of their young people. If any out-of-tribe romance were to be suspected, the young people would be killed. So young boys and young girls marry pretty much within their tribes. There are some tribes in the north that are more open about this, but not around Zaranj. The smaller tribes here have more and more instances of relatives inter-marrying, and inter-marrying, and inter-marrying, until some of the young are not normal. A dozen generations of cousins marrying cousins will do this.
And people in this environment that aren’t normal, can be suicidal or, can be talked into suicidal attacks… at the very least some of the people walking the Zaranj streets and driving the Zaranj/Delaram road are unpredictable… there are catastrophic head on accidents on the road way because of this absolute unpredictability among some of the drivers.
So there you go. But if you think you know what’s goin’ on in Zaranj now, then you just don’t know the facts. It is where a lot of mean people come to do business. Where killing’s part of getting things done. Where American sense of society doesn’t exist.
Take the real life example of a young man who lived on the edge of the opium growing area of Afghanistan who went into a small sundries shop north of Ghur Guri and in doing his business of buying some household items, led the store owner to believe he had just made a killing on some deal inside Iran. A couple of nights later some men representing a local war lord came to his humble house and took the young man away, leaving behind a note that the war lord wanted some big, big amount of money, that he thought the young man had made in Iran. Whether the young man had just been boastful, or if he was misheard at the sundry shop it’s not known, and for this story not important. The powerful war lord was the power in the area and he wanted such and such an amount of money. Well this young man did come from a strong family – they didn’t have nearly the money that was demanded – but they had the will to try and keep this young man alive, so that mortgaged themselves – their labor – for years and years of servitude ahead to get money to pay the war lord. It was close, but not the astronomical sum he was asking for. The family asked for some consideration because of what they had done to get the cash they had… which the war lord took, before delivering the dead young man’s body back to the family because he didn’t get the money he had asked for.
Consequences? Family still had to work for years to repaid what they had borrowed and the war lord reputation for ruthlessness was enhanced… which improved his future extortion business.
There was continuing interest with Zaranj activities while I was in Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011. Part of this was because the Baloch leader of the Jundalla terrorist organization was captured by the Iranians in 2009 and in explaining where his organization was getting its weapons and ammo, said – shortly before he was executed – that he was getting it from the Americans.
Well that wasn’t true. But where did he get his stuff? And what was goin’ on generally here in this lawless tri-border choke point.
Ghur Guri was as close as Americans could get… a US unit maintained a forward, isolated position. On the one side of this forward position was the Nimroz Province Commander’s compound, and on the other side they built a compound for the local Afghan militia. There was some security in being sandwiched between these more or less friendly organization, though incoming always seemed to land in the US compound.
Getting a helicopter ride down to Ghur Guri was difficult because there was no place to refuel, so going down from Delaram where the closest US military was located and back put the helicopter at our disposal “near empty.” So rides down were done on fixed wing planes.
The US military unit would receive coded messages about the arrival of a resupply plane a day or so ahead of time, and moments before the plane was to arrive, the unit would pull out of its compound in armored vehicles and stop traffic on the road north of Ghur Guri. The Air Force Short Take Off and Landing plane would land, replacements would jump off, and people goin’ on leave or official business would get on. Wheels down were no more than a pair of minutes.
It was always of interest to the USAF pilots what this white headed old sumbitch was doing jumping off at that hellish place.
But like I said, they didn’t stay long enough to ask questions. They’d take off, the unit’s armored vehicles would take on the new arrivals and supplies and retreat to the compound. The mostly truck traffic on the road would resume.
Even though there was a maximum effort to keep a low profile and not get cross ways with any of the local groups, several Americans have died defending this garrison or on patrol outside the compound walls.
It was like the Zaranj bandit’s organizational wheels were always in motion. And everyone carried guns. When someone was at the wrong place at the wrong time, he was shot, or a command detonated improvised mine went off.
Zaranj claimed a population of 50,000; there were a few ethnic places to buy cooked food. There were the flop houses. There was a market, a bus depot, some outside tables where a man could order some coffee. Strangers were not welcomed for more than a day or so. Three or four days just hanging around, and a man would be shot.
There was no color in Zaranj. Things were just white, or black or something brownish in between. No pinks, or yellow or reds. No glass windows to speak of. No smiles. No signs of authority to speak of. Small markets, some selling cross border goods.
It was extremely hot. And dusty. Except for the roar of truck engines… quiet.
Alien. No sense of human kindness. Unfriendly.
Maybe Indiana Jones would not have stood out walking down the streets of Zaranj with a whip on his belt, dust rising from each footstep. But he had better be ready to die, because that went with life in Zaranj.
For me, drones are the answer. Whatever the question on US equities in this place, think drones. But first think hard about what exactly makes for US equities, what affects our national security there?
Zaranj is not our place. It is anti-thesis to the American way. Meaner than Hollywood and Indiana Jones could ever imagine.