10 things you might not know about the Afghan war
1 The U.S. has authorized $557 billion to fund the war in Afghanistan — enough for every man, woman and child in Chicago to buy 20 iPads, 30 Kindle Fires, Bulls season tickets, a campaign fundraiser photo with Michelle Obama and dinner at Alinea every night for a year.
CIA operatives have occasionally offered Viagra to elderly tribal chieftains to secure their cooperation.
3 Very little is known about the elusive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar — except that he has one eye. According to Abdul Salam Zaeef, a former high-ranking member of the Taliban, Omar lost his eye fighting the Soviets in vicious, hand-to-hand street fighting in the 1980s. Zaeef wrote that the next day, Omar had to be persuaded to get treatment rather than continue the fight.
4 The story of Pat Tillman, who quit a $3.6 million NFL contract to join the U.S. Army, was often obscured after his death in Afghanistan. The military covered up the fact that he died from friendly fire, and speakers at his memorial service invoked the deity even though Tillman was either an agnostic or atheist and had requested no chaplain at his funeral. Also little publicized after his death was the fact that he was opposed to the war in Iraq. Writing about Iraq in his diary, he declared that "we have little or no justification other than our imperial whim."
5 More than four dozen countries have committed troops to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. But while the United States has deployed 90,000 service personnel in ISAF, others are less invested: Austria has kicked in 3 troops, compared withIceland's4,Ireland's7,Luxembourg's11 andEl Salvador's24.
6 Afghanistan lost two popular leaders at a crucial time. Two days before the Sept. 11 attacks, anti-Taliban guerrilla leader Ahmad Shah Massoud was killed by assassins posing as journalists. Sept. 9 is a now Massoud Day, a national holiday in Afghanistan. Seven weeks after Massoud's death, another admired leader, Abdul Haq, was captured and executed by the Taliban after riding into the country on horseback to lead a popular revolt without U.S. support.
7 A "jingle truck" or a "jingly" is a vehicle used by Afghans to deliver goods to Western troops. Often brightly painted, they have trinkets or tassels hung from the truck frame so that they jingle. Some troops also use the term "jinglies" to refer to the Afghans themselves.
8 John Walker Lindh, the "American Taliban" captured in Afghanistan, is imprisoned near Terre Haute, Ind., in the same federal correctional complex where terrorist Timothy McVeigh was executed and where former Illinois Gov. George Ryan is held. (The ex-governor is in a low-security camp separate from Lindh's facility.)
9 The Javelin missile is so expensive ($75,000, by one account) that British soldiers in Afghanistan refer to firing a Javelin as "throwing a Porsche at them."
10 Afghan President Hamid Karzai's signature headwear, the karakul hat, has been praised as stylish and denounced as a product of animal cruelty. The karakul is made from the pelt of a newborn lamb or — in the case of the more expensive ones — a lamb fetus that is removed when a pregnant ewe is cut open.
Mark Jacob is a deputy metro editor at the Tribune; Stephan Benzkofer is the Tribune's weekend editor.
Sources: "My Life With the Taliban," by Abdul Salam Zaeef, Alex Strick Van Linschoten, Felix Kuehn; "Brookings Afghanistan Index" by Ian S. Livingston and Michael O'Hanlon; "In Afghanistan" by David Loyn; "Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman" by Jon Krakauer; "The Wars of Afghanistan" by Peter Tomsen; The Washington Post; London Telegraph; urbandictionary.com; defense-update.com; U.S. Bureau of Prisons; The New York Times; Glasgow Herald; BBC News.