Michael's Dispatches

Alcohol in Afghanistan


19 March 2012

There are reports that alcohol was involved in the Panjway 16.  There are also reports that alcohol was not involved.

Since 2005, I've only seen two Soldiers truly drunk on missions during about three years with combat troops.  Both were in Iraq.  One Soldier was enlisted, and the other was an officer not in the US military.  Both were absolutely drunk.

The American Soldier—there was a raid and an IED that night—told me that his wife would ship Vodka in mouthwash bottles and she added food coloring as disguise.  The officer was different; his military was allowed alcohol but not to get drunk.

Alcohol was readily available in Iraq through many sources.  Christians in Iraq often had liquor stores.  Muslims were not allowed to sell it, but many liked to drink, as did the Christians.  Some Iraqis complained about Christians fleeing neighborhoods because their liquor stores closed.

In Afghanistan, availability depends on the city.  Many of the Coalition partners have and sell alcohol on bases, such as the Italians.  The British have had a two-cans-per-week policy at times, but that depends on where they are.  At hardcore combat outposts, alcohol is verboten.  Lithuanians bring beer.  I’m told that French bring wine and that Germans bring beer, but that is secondhand.

The first two General Orders in Iraq and Afghanistan (for US troops) banned alcohol and pornography, but among the about 40 international partners in Afghanistan, most of the others don’t seem to give a hoot.  And so the close relationship between US troops and so many partners means that most everything remains on the table.  Troops trade stuff.

And this does not include the Department of State folks and all the rest, including civilian contractors.  Many of the various Embassies are replete with alcohol, which filters out to contractors and troops, at least in Kabul.

Alcohol is also available through “secret” phone numbers in Kabul.  Customers call the number and they deliver it like pizza, only they hide it in secret spaces in the car. There are many bars and restaurants downtown in Kabul, and many meetings occur in those.

Down in places like Nimroz (tiny US presence) along the Iran/Pakistan border, alcohol is strongly forbidden to sell but Afghans still buy it.  Some tribes will kill members if they are caught drinking.

But up in Jalalabad, not far from Pakistan, there was even a bar at a sort of hotel.  There was a pool where international women would sunbathe in bikinis.  An American captain got drunk there—he was caught later back on base and sent home from Afghanistan.  He was not on a combat mission but out for a night on the town.  He was a civil affairs guy who showed up with two Humvees and some buddies, all in uniform.  On the scale of things, this is rare, but from the position of a Military Police it might look epidemic.

Back in Iraq, in Baghdad, the British actually had a bar that Gurkhas would run.  It was just across the lake from the main headquarters.  I learned about it after being invited there for a meeting.

Further around the lake from the British bar, the Aussies had a pool.  Folks would say that the Aussies had a bar and that women sunbathed topless but I only saw it from a distance.  Elsewhere in Iraq and Afghanistan, Coalition women definitely sunbathed topless.  “Oh, but that will offend the locals!”  It’s kept hidden, but you’ve probably never seen people who love pornography more than some Iraqis and Afghans.  When our side supplied computers for Iraqis, they often became home and office porn centers.  When our people capture phones, the memories often are loaded with porn.

In Kabul, Afghans are not allowed into the Afghan-run bars for a couple of reasons, one of which being that they have a terrible reputation of going plum wild when they drink.  I recall an Afghan special forces officer coming to a meeting and the restaurant was not going to allow him in.  He pretty much threatened them right in front of me.  He never took the pistol off his hip but he scared them and they said okay.  Bottom line is that alcohol is there in Kabul and sold in Western restaurants.

Down in Kandahar, an entire shipping container of alcohol was confiscated.  The police who seized it started getting drunk.  Two Westerners were arrested and taken to jail in Kandahar City, but a hefty bribe got them out.

A source informed me about some officers who got drunk on FOB Pasab (before I was there), which is near Panjway, and flipped their SUV on base.  Months ago, someone sent photos of the SUV and some detailed reports.  (This was before 4-4 Cav got to Pasab.) I was told about a Scandinavian troop in Kabul who got drunk, climbed up on a roof and started firing a pistol into the air.

During the early part of the Afghanistan war, before I got there, Kabul was described as a wild-west sort of town with bars filled with heavily armed men and Chinese brothels.  There was at least one report of a Chinese brothel busted and the women shipped back to China.

All in all, Afghanistan is mostly dry for the US troops, but that depends on where they are and their will to imbibe.  They can make their own.

Bottom line is that there seems to be an information campaign unfolding whether the accused was drinking that night.  There is no doubt about availability.   In any case, if a drunken person accidentally kills someone while driving in the United States, that person might be charged with first-degree murder.  If a drunken person participates in the deliberate murder of sixteen unarmed people, many of them children, and is convicted and found sane, that person should face the death penalty.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Kevin Ward · 9 years ago
    Check this out
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Rusty Shackleford · 9 years ago
    I never really understood the reasoning behind the alcohol prohibition in country. There’s nothing I wanted more after a mission (minus being home) than cigar and an ice cold beer…which would have helped suffering through the AFN commercials as well. Instead, it is making its way through black market channels (as described above) or just through the mail where Soldiers have to drink it in private…sometimes to excess. If we’re allowed to drink a couple of beers in a controlled area (maybe a unit or base ran bar), the chances of a troop getting smashed in their hooch and doing something stupid would go down dramatically.

    Don’t even get me started about the porn… :P
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Susan · 9 years ago
    One serious problem regarding alcohol is the families and friends back home who think they are doing their loved ones in combat a favor by sneaking alcohol into care packages......thinking they need to unwind or relax with a drink....do not think of the repercussions at the other end....troops with alcohol are a danger to themselves, their brothers in arms and anyone around them. Deployment to a war zone is not the place for alcohol. It is a danger and can be fatal.

    I have no idea if alcohol is an issue in this case, but the severity of alcohol in care packages is far greater than anyone realizes. Those who send it spend countless hours scheming devious ways to get thank alcohol to their troops....considering they are not in the habit of drinking over there a single drink can affect their judgment and their reflexes.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Steve S · 9 years ago

    I sure hope you're not advocating the death penalty for this Staff Sergeant. His aledged crime is horrific, but let us not jump to dictating his penalty before trial has even begun.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    mike.l · 9 years ago
    The Germans are allowed to drink but rationed, see allot of empty bottles going back to Germany in cargo jets. German near beer is good though and have it available in the DFACS.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    JackHandy · 9 years ago
    I hope that guy has / had a full toxicology done. He's either a nut and should be locked up for good, invited to the next Texas State Penitentiary BBQ or someone slipped him a Micky. For his sake, I hope it was the later.

    fyi: Alcohol isn't the only drug capable of inducing neanderthal like rage in trained killers. I'm sure plenty of those other drugs are readily available in the 'stan as well. Just ask your cab driver.

    Sounds like he remembered what he did (turned himself in). Whether he was in control will have to be determined.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    chris.p · 9 years ago

    When I first got to Basra in the summer of '06, every trailer court had it's own bar, but the brit ones required ration cards - forbidden to US. In the Skylink compound we had a great little bar run by some gentlemen from the Pacific Islands (Tonga?).

    The Skylink bar had signs prohibiting military, but the brits would show up late, after their ration cards ran out, throw a wild party, get in trouble, and the bar would be shut down.

    After a few months in Basra, I transferred over to Bagram and ended up living next to the French MI. The French would make runs to the liquor store outside Kabul every few weeks and load up their tacticals with beer.

    Overall the French were wonderfully nice once you were trusted (they had been burned too many times by US soldiers). Every 6 weeks or so they would have a celebration with BBQ steaks, lobster, beer, wine, etc.

    We had some wonderful fun nights there, but we also were not people who normally went off base and firearms were locked up when the drinking started.

    When I went back to Iraq I was in a different job with much higher responsibility and the need to set a good example. I've had alchohol offered and given since, but have never felt the desire to drink in country since.

    Afghanistan is a crappy enough place, alcohol helps nothing there. OTOH it would be a huge improvement if they would shut down the DoS liquor stores. Everyone that falls under GO-1 is aware the "Staties" have liquor stores and open drinking, which is fairly insulting to those that do play by the rules.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    JBP · 9 years ago
    It's a nit, but you made a mistake. It's only first degree murder if a person intends the death. Driving drunk could never be more than second degree murder and even that is a stretch.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    scott Dudley · 9 years ago
    He may have been affected by a pill provided by the military.

    http://themoderatevoice.com/14185 /robert-bales-and-big-pharma/
  • This commment is unpublished.
    George C. · 9 years ago
    If a drunk driver kills someone in the United States he/she is charged with vehicular manslaughter not 1st degree murder, unless of course the person got in the car with the specific intent of running down and killing someone.
    Regarding the troop who allegedly shot these 16 Afgans, is it your contention that a traumatic brain injury and PTSD, if they apply, are not mitigating issues? My point here is that I think he could be found to be sane now but also considered to have been temporarily insane at the time the act was committed. Much is being learned about TBI and PTSD, unfortunately because so many of our troops are suffering these injuries in this lengthy conflict.
    I agree with you, pull the main battle force out of this hellhole now...
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Michael Yon author · 9 years ago
    JBP --

    Folks get charged with first degree murder for drinking-driving-killing on a regular basis.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Michael Yon Author · 9 years ago
    It's a side topic -- won't take much internet elbow grease to find plenty of cases of people (in various states) charged with first degree murder for killing someone while driving drunk.

  • This commment is unpublished.
    George C. · 9 years ago
    In my earlier post you'll note that I said,"unless of course the person got in the car with the specific intent of killing someone". In the article that you referenced this is what is alleged. "This means that the prosecutors will have to prove that the drunk driver intended to kill someone." This quote is from the article you you sent me. You have to actually read the comments and the articles before you respond.
    • This commment is unpublished.
      Michael Yon Author · 9 years ago

      There are many cases. More than you might care to read. It's not uncommon to be charged with first or second degree murder for killing someone while drunk driving.

  • This commment is unpublished.
    George C. · 9 years ago
    The point that I have been arguing is 1st Degree Murder convictions in DUI cases. Second Degree Murder is much easier to apply. And yes, there have been a few 1st Degree Murder/ DUI convictions. I would argue that any one of them in which a "specific intent" was not proven have been or will be reversed upon appeal.
    There is also a big difference between being charged with and be convicted of any particular crime.
    Rather than taking up your entire day, I'll concede that instances can be found that support your side of this argument.
    I enjoy your dispatches and your personalized book. Please keep up the good work, and stay safe.....
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jacob Theodore · 9 years ago
    As an old person who was young during WWII I think the issue of punishment in this case should be handled as it was then. It was simple. During war, such acts were judged at a Court Martial. The accused was provided a defense, but the Court Martial proceeded not with assumed innocence, but assumed guilt as substantiated by the evidence.Guilt or innocence was based on deliberate acts of the accused rather than any mental or emotional mitigation. Deaths by accident or collateral damage were considered to be a consequence of war rather than criminal activity. Rape, murder,and pillage were not. Without evidence to the contrary, the accused was convicted. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capital_punishment_by_the_United_States_military

    This matter should be kept in the military, and concluded in the military, without political involvement. The death penalty is still in force under the UCMJ.Our military has an obligation to America and to the world to show that it is still a creature of honor, and does not need politicians to clean up its mess. My opinion is, if he is found guilty,he should be taken out and publicly executed for the world to see. It would not be to sooth foreign or domestic opinion, but to restate to ALL observers, a fundamental tenet of what is the last honorable profession, the Profession of Arms.
    • This commment is unpublished.
      George C. · 9 years ago
      At that time far less was known about mental and emotional issues and how they might effect the term, "deliberate". Nowadays I would hope that, even under the UCMJ, you are considered innocent until proven guilty, and, mitigating factors are considered and based upon today's science.
      Also, I don't see the "honorable profession" demonstrating that honor by generating a public spectacle via a publicized execution. If indeed he is found guilty of a capital offense and sentenced to death he should be executed, but it need not be made a blood-fest on the TV and internet.
      Precedent can become outdated....
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ed Arredondo · 9 years ago
    Right after 9/11 I read an article about Afghanistan that talked about the Taliban and how they were involved in the opium trade and that 80% a the worlds opium comes from there.
    Has anyone posed the possibility that maybe this young man became an opium addict. That maybe that is why he left the compound at night and ventured out into that village to score his next fix and then something went horribly wrong.
    And the idea that this one man went into that village by himself is incomprehesible to me unless he really needed something.
    • This commment is unpublished.
      Ryden · 9 years ago
      I sort of doubt that that article was a good piece of work, considering how the Talibans pretty much killed people who were involved in the opium trade, and kept it up until they realised they could allow it and tax it to fund their war.
      However, concerning the main matter. I doubt that's the case. The dead Afghans were all inside their homes that he'd breaken into, so that kind of rules out the drug-deal-gone-bad theory. That, and the locals only grow the opium poppys, they're not the ones who process it and turn it into a consumable drug, so I think it'd be like buying barley when you want to drink bear. Alcohol might actually have been the reason why he went out on his own. I read Black Hearts a while ago (a squad in Iraq that simply goes nuts to sum it up). People would drink, and just randomly go out on patrols by themselves, drunk of their arse, often followed by a sober soldier to be on the safe side. One time one or two fireteams simply took off with drunken leaders, broke into an Iraqi home and started beating up the inhabitants until some of their sober buddies discovered what they were up to.
      So in essence, if Bales had consumed enough alcohol, it could explain why he simply walked away alone in the middle of the night.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    John - Capt in ANG · 9 years ago
    In the West (Herat) it used to be common place on the Spanish and Italian camps. There was no drinking on the job or during the day, but you could enjoy alcohol in a social setting. In the North, the Germans were similar. However, due to US military and contractors, it's dried up considerably. One of my colleagues got fired for bringing back liquor from West to South (Kandahar).

    So, yes it's there. However nowadays it's really underground and hard to get if you want to be "honest." I've been to West, and wanted to drink, but stayed clean and just went without. To me, we're adults. If you can trust us with fully automatic weapons with ammo, you can trust me to judge when/if/how I drink. Before McChrystal, I could drink nearly all I wanted. How many did I drink in the 6 months in Kabul before it was banned? Maybe 7 beers total. 4 of those were in one sitting with a SOF guy buying them (he was lively, talking about then Pres-candidate Obama).
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ross Elder · 9 years ago
    I'm not in the same AO as this soldier, so I can't speak to the availability of alcohol in his area. But, here in the North of the country, due to the presence of several Euro allies, it can be had if you are determined.

    Based on the eye-witness statements, as well as the reports of his conduct, whether he had a drink or not, these actions were not the actions of someone who was seriously impaired. By all accounts, he moved with tactical precision.

    Something else is obviously seriously wrong with this man. Even drunk off your ass, how many of you want to pick up a gun and murder women and children? That, in and of itself, is simply ludicrous as a defense.

  • This commment is unpublished.
    bengggg · 9 years ago
    We Brits don't have a two can rule in Afghanistan, alcohol is specifically prohibited throughout the country for British troops. It is possible to get it, but it is completely against the rules.
    • This commment is unpublished.
      Michael Yon, Author · 9 years ago

      There have been times and places where Brits were authorized beer in Afghanistan. This is not theory or secondhand but 100%. I do not know about now. Things change quickly.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Omar · 9 years ago
    The United States of America, the land of hope and greener pastures. Are you sure about this? Who said this? It could be true at times, but maybe some people, including some Americans, may disagree with this. If you would like to read more follow this link, the article is very interesting: http://goarticles.com/article/U.S-Interpreters-in-Afghanistan-cannot-speak-the-Afghan-languages-so-better-use-your-Smartphone/4590471/.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    roger francis UK · 9 years ago
    ".....Germans bring beer, but that is secondhand."

    I agree with that observation Michael - hardly astute, but true! :lol:
    • This commment is unpublished.
      chris.p · 9 years ago
      [quote name="roger francis UK"]".....Germans bring beer, but that is secondhand."

      I agree with that observation Michael - hardly astute, but true! :lol:[/quote]

      There is no second-hand for me. Just make a visit to Mas-e-Sharif on base. There are three bars in the main courtyard where Germans (and NATO) with ration cards can buy beer. This was the case Feb '11 when I was last there.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Shay · 5 years ago
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