My latest article for Blue Force Tracker:
There are a lot of horrible stories from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. My little brother, former Air Force Capt. Drew Peterson, told me one of the worst I’ve yet to hear.
He was riding in a convoy from Bagram Air Base to Kabul during a deployment to Afghanistan in August 2010.
This particularly dangerous stretch of road was known as “suicide alley” due to the frequency of Taliban improvised explosive device (IED) attacks. Most of the IEDs along suicide alley were physically connected to detonators by a thin copper “piano wire,” which, unlike IEDs remotely controlled via cell-phone, made them immune to jamming.
These hard-wired IEDs, however, required greater precision out of the attacker to time the explosion to passing vehicles.
So the best defense against attack was to drive fast and not stop. Not for anything.
“The Taliban would do anything to get us to stop,” Drew said. “But as soon as you stop or open your door, you’re dead.”
Drew was sitting in the back left seat that August day, behind the Afghan National Police (ANP) officer driving the Toyota Tacoma, which was the lead vehicle in the convoy. There were two other people in the cab, as well as an ANP officer in the back bed of the truck manning an AK-47 assault rifle.
Suddenly, there was the high-pitched squeal of brakes and the deep bass thump of impact. Drew instinctively turned to look forward, only to see a young girl, maybe five or six years old, split in two over the hood of the truck. “Half her body went over the truck, half her body went under it,” as he described it.
There was a lot of blood.
People inside the truck were yelling and cussing.
The guy in the front passenger seat was screaming, “Go, go, go.”
“We just ran over a fucking kid,” someone else said.
The Afghan driver fought through his instinct to stop the truck — he knew this was no accident.
The driver later explained that he saw a man kick the young girl into the road. This was a common tactic used by the Taliban to try and coax NATO and Afghan government convoys to slow down or stop so they could be destroyed by an IED or an ambush.
But the driver didn’t fall for the Taliban’s ploy, he punched the gas and kept the truck moving, thus saving the lives of my brother and everyone else inside from the Taliban ambush that was sure to follow, but never came.
“It fucked with our heads,” Drew later said. “But I’m sure if we stopped, they had some plans for us.”
Just to reiterate — the Taliban deliberately kicked a child in front of a truck to set up an ambush.
Such barbarity has the secondary effect of wounding the souls and consciences of the troops who witness such things.
Four years later, Drew’s sentences sometimes trail off as he explains that day, his mind replaying images and sounds for which there are no words.
“It definitely makes you question whether we are doing more harm than good over there,” Drew said. “Who are these people, the Taliban? These are not human beings. There is no bringing these people back. And if they are willing to do this to win, there is no bomb that can defeat that. How do you destroy someone that doesn’t care about being destroyed?”