Living under constant tension

2012-09-22 00:00

THE dangers of working in Afghanistan for contractors like Mike Orylski are ever present.

Lured by huge paydays, ex-soldiers like Orylski endure the constant threat of suicide bombers, rocket attacks and sniper fire to carry out the coalition task of rebuilding the war-torn country.

Orylski, who lives in East London and is currently at home in between tours, moves around with four bodyguards, one permanently at his side.

And in his hands he carries his own AK47, ready to fire at the first sign of danger.

“In the four trips that I’ve done, I’ve lost about 10 to 12 drivers to IEDs [military speak for improvised bombs]. The trucks bringing the supplies in are always getting smacked,” said Orylski, who is a distribution manager in Helmand province, considered a hotspot for insurgency violence.

Orylski’s job involves distributing seeds and fertiliser to farmers as part of a wider plan by the West to replace poppy cultivation in the country with alternative agriculture.

But the largesse is not always welcomed by the Taliban, the fundamentalist group that has caused so much of the strife in Afghanistan.

Because poppy harvests, used for producing heroin, are central as a source of funding for the Taliban, they see any intervention as a huge threat.

And Orylski knows only too well that the situation puts a clear target on his back.

“One of my security guys was taken out five metres away from me by a sniper. Another time a bullet missed me by two feet,” Orylski said.

About two years ago, a suicide bomber detonated a device in a packed marketplace in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand. Orylski was 500 metres away, stationed at an army base.

More than a dozen people were killed and twice as many injured. The dead and wounded had to be taken into makeshift medical bases set up by British forces.

“We were carrying them in on motorbikes,” said Orylski.

At 53, Orylski still finds the adrenalin of the battlefield hard to forget — he was in the Rhodesian Light Infantry when the former Zimbabwe was fighting for liberation.

And he said that experience, like many of his South African counterparts, has made them sought after by contractors working in warzones.

Orylski said he had flown with South African pilots from Kabul to what are known as Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) established by the British armed forces or the U.S. Marines.

However, he had never used the services of those who died in this week’s suicide bombing.

Orylski said he works in proximity of the FOBs, but even these heavily fortified military stations and bases come under attack.

“We always have to be careful, there are constant threats of suicide bombers. Even the farmers who come to collect their goodies get searched three times.”

Orylski is scheduled to fly back in November for another three-to-four-month stint, undeterred by the violence. He speaks without bravado, and goes about his work like a professional.

“All of us are ex-special forces. There is a job to do and that is why they take us on.”

• brett.horner@witness.co.za

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