KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — The Afghan civilians appeared overwhelmed by the military presence at a checkpoint in Kandahar on Friday.
Eighteen vehicles and about 50 Romanian and U.S. soldiers were spread across a one-half kilometer stretch of Highway 4. The paved road, a rarity in this dry, dusty region, is a popular thoroughfare for drivers bound for Kandahar city.
In a matter of minutes after selecting the location, the 10th Mountain Division’s 10th Military Police Company and the Romanian Army’s 151st Infantry Battalion soldiers were set up and ready to begin.
The three-hour traffic checkpoint was a routine operation, not based on any intelligence or recent incidents, according to 1st Lt. Benjamin Hung, 1st Platoon leader for the 10th MP Company.
“They are routine, but scheduled randomly,” Hung said. The randomness prevents potential weapons smugglers from learning the schedule and avoiding the thoroughfare on those days.
Romanian intelligence officers at the site selected the vehicles that would be checked, according to Lt. Filipescu Marian, a ground lieutenant from the 151st.
“They will tell us: ‘That car may have weapons.’ So we stop the car and search it,” Marian said.
“We try to look inside [four-wheel-drive] vehicles that are more likely to make it across mountain terrain.”
The first vehicle stopped was a pickup truck driven by a man who claimed to work for the governor of Kandahar, although some of his papers listed the previous governor. Hung was in doubt and checked everything from the man’s identification cards to the phone numbers stored in his satellite phone’s address book. It turned out the man did in fact work for the government, Hung said.
But as far as Hung was concerned, troops can’t be too careful.
“This is serious; it’s important,” Hung said. “There are weapons smugglers using this road. We’re trying to find the stuff that is still being fired on our soldiers.”
The MPs and Romanians, along with one Afghan militia forces soldier, thoroughly searched vehicles and the passengers of the vehicles. A female MP searched women in the privacy of a small canvass dressing room that soldiers brought to the site.
“We need to respect the Afghan people culturally,” Hung said. “That’s why we have a female MP and the [room] to search Afghan women.”
The vehicles were searched both for weapons and for improvised explosive devices, Hung said.
Other than a “jingle truck” — so named because the tractor-trailers have ornate chains hanging from their frames that jingle when they drive — and a few minivans, the soldiers searched mostly taxis and pickup trucks.
Each vehicle, even the smallest of taxi cabs, held anywhere from five to about 15 passengers, from infants to the elderly.
And the MPs searched them all.
The troops didn’t turn up a single weapon, but that result wasn’t necessarily discouraging.
“They could tell me I have to stand out here for 12 hours, and I wouldn’t complain,” said Sgt. Alfred LeBlanc, a squad leader from 10th MP Company.
“I prefer not to find anything. That means the enemy is not operating in this area, and that’s a good thing for the people who live here.”