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Capt. Bradford Garrison, second from left, meets with locals in Khowst province.
Capt. Bradford Garrison, second from left, meets with locals in Khowst province. (Anita Powell / S&S)

KHOWST PROVINCE, Afghanistan — Like any kid new to the neighborhood, Capt. Bradford Garrison is having a little trouble making friends.

Except in this neighborhood along the restive Pakistani border, making friends could be a matter of life or death — and the duty of newly arrived unit leaders like Garrison, commander of Company D, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, a unit attached to Task Force 4-25 of Fort Drum, N.Y.

In Garrison’s first month in Afghanistan, he’s embarked on a whirlwind tour of his area of operations in southeastern Afghanistan, meeting local officials and village elders, assessing their needs, seeking information on possible threats and asking for cooperation.

So far, he’s been met with countless steaming cups of Afghan green tea, poetic platitudes, suspicious and recalcitrant village elders, and requests for help, money, reconstruction projects, intelligence and more.

Other than the tea, little else has been offered in return.

“We’re still in a relationship-building mode with them,” he said during a recent meet-and-greet patrol near the village of Tere Zayi. “They have fears. They are worried about security and worried about being marked.”

For now, he said, the lack of disclosure is expected.

“Even if their security’s bad,” he said, “they’re going to tell you it’s good until they know they can trust you.”

At Tere Zayi, local police chief Mir Ali Jan didn’t hesitate to present Garrison with a litany of requests.

“Right now we can settle little disputes, but the big disputes, we need bigger forces to solve those disputes so we need to contact the government or coalition forces,” he said through a translator. “You guys can solve this problem. Without you guys here, we cannot solve this dispute.”

Jan did, however, concede to Garrison’s request to do a joint patrol on a recent visit, although he asked Garrison for petrol to fill up the station’s lone patrol vehicle, a pickup truck. On the rocky road through the mountains, Garrison pointed at the police station’s lack of resources.

“This is a joint patrol,” he said, pointing at the truck as it bounced ahead of the four American Humvees. “This is as joint as it gets. They only have one vehicle for the whole district.”

At another village that’s a two-hour trek from Khowst, village elders shifted in clear discomfort as Garrison asked them about local security, tribal issues, land disputes and their needs.

Village elders offered a wish list: school supplies, a new road, a clinic, a new school.

“It takes two hours to get to Khowst city,” said one elder, who, like the other villagers, did not want to give his name. “If they build the road it will take one hour.”

“The people will pay attention to you guys if you help the madrassah,” said another, referring to a local religious school.

“I’ll be back,” Garrison said after promising to bring school supplies for the madrassah.

At that, one elder unexpectedly piped up in English.

“We’ll see,” he said.

— Anita Powell

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