Morale: Paranoia Over Poisoned Cigarettes Angers Troops


September 7,2008:  Some U.S. troops in eastern Afghanistan are angry as the brass for barring them from buying cigarettes, and other products, from Afghan shops. It all began back in July, when two members of Task Force Currahee (a reinforced brigade of the 82nd Airborne) fell ill, after having smoked some locally bought cigarettes. The two were evacuated to Germany, then the United States, and an official report of what caused their collapse has not yet been released. That's what annoys the troops in Task Force Currahee, because the brass seem to have hit the panic button without really knowing what's going on.

Task Force Phoenix (a brigade sized unit composed largely of U.S. Army reservists) issued a warning to its troops to be careful about buying from Afghan shops. Task Force Duke (a brigade size from the 1st Infantry Division) banned tobacco purchases from locals, along with lotions, soaps, body washes, mouthwash and colognes.

What's particularly annoying to the troops is that for many of them, stationed in small groups out in the hills, the only place they can get these things is from a local shop. And buying from these shop helps build relationships with the locals. Moreover, most Afghans felt insulted with the implications that they would allow their customers to be poisoned. The troops also miss the cheap prices. A carton of Afghan cigarettes cost only four dollars. The troops, when pressed by the Afghans for the reasoning behind these bans, have responded with shrugs, or snarky comments about clueless, and career obsessed, officers. Many troops also believe that the lack of an official report, on what actually took the troops down, indicates that they were smoking heroin laced cigarettes. These can be had, and some troops indulge, safe in the knowledge that they will have time to stop before they go home, and are again subject to the random drug tests that have made the U.S. armed forces the most drug free on the planet. But that hasn't stopped some troops from looking for a way to get high. Heroin and opium are cheap in Afghanistan, as is marijuana. But heroin enhanced cigarettes are the most discrete way to get ripped. But if there's too much horse in the tobacco, the user can be a few tokes from blackout, or death.

Meanwhile, the troops, and the local merchants, just want to get their shopping privileges back.



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