What I Learned While Eavesdropping on the Taliban

 Ian Fritz’s job was providing “threat warning” to the allied forces from 2008 to 2013. Fritz had many duties as one of two linguists aboard Air Force Special Operations Command aircraft. Fritz heard a lot during 600 hours of combat missions.  While eavesdropping on the Taliban he heard both horrific and ordinary things. One conversation he overheard took place during winter while in northern Afghanistan, where the average elevation is above 7,000 feet, and the average temperature is below freezing. Two men were discussing placing an IED on a bend, determined to kill as many Americans as possible. They ended up making Fritz laugh after making a joke about the weather and how it was just too cold to go to war.

 The cargo planes he was aboard had enough range to destroy a building, but they used them against people.  It was Fritz’s job to help decide which people.  100 of those hours was the villains discussing usable intelligence, the rest consisted of everyday things and reveling in the idea of retaking their country. However, most of all they spent a lot of time talking crap. Pashto and Dari, the two main languages spoken in Afghanistan, have a rhyming inherent to the language and many words share double meaning. They have a liking for repetition. Fritz heard this from a man named Kalima. The man on the radio called his name again and again, 50 times in every possible combination of syllabic prominence, “Kalima! Kaliiiiiiima. Kalimaaaaaaa. Kalima Kalima Kalima Kalima Kalima.” No one ever responded.

 The Taliban had enthusiasm and pep talk’s before and after war. This ceaseless gloating was not because they are well equipped, or because they believed in the holiness of their mission. It is what keeps them fighting. During one battle, fighter jets dropped 500-pound bombs into a landscape killing 20 men. When two more jets arrived, they yelled “Keep shooting. They will retreat!” “Brothers, we are winning. This is a glorious day.” “Waaaaallahu akbar, they’re dying!” They had only killed six Americans and one hundred of them died that day. Fritz had a revelation. Nothing else mattered for them if they kept their spirits high encouraging one another. That not only were they winning, but they’d get us again, better, next time.

 Throughout Fritz’s deployment, he began to experience déjà vu. It wasn’t until one boring mission that he realized they knew he heard the boasting and planning. It just didn’t matter because it was much more than pep talk and empty rhetoric. They were self-fulfilling prophecies. No matter what they did, where they went, or how many of them they killed, they came back. Fritz was not surprised that the Taliban reclaimed Afghanistan. The bombs and bullets ensured the young boys of their village were more likely to join. They told him that even if they died, they were confident that their goals would be achieved by their brothers in arms. He refused to hear until he understood exactly what they were saying: Afghanistan is ours.

By: Tanezha Mingo

Source: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/08/what-i-learned-while-eavesdropping-on-the-taliban/619807/