Blackhawks Blow Kabul Bazaar — Sunny, With a Chance of Rotor-Wash

Photograph by Gopal Ratnam/Bloomberg

Afghan carpet vendors at a weekend bazaar in a Kabul military compound.

It’s a sunny and mildly chilly afternoon in Kabul on a Friday, a slow-ops tempo day in military speak, when civilians and people in uniform can take it easy because their Afghan counterparts are off on their weekend.

After three days of rain, the skies are a clear blue. Many of the several thousand inhabitants of the International Security Assistance Force compound in Kabul are catching up on their chores, shipping parcels out at the post office, doing laundry, or enjoying a leisurely lunch and sipping cappuccinos  at Café Blue in the compound.

Over by the soccer field, the Friday bazaar is open for business selling carpets, Afghan lapis lazuli, jewelry, pakul hats, Cashmere scarves, Chinese-made backpacks, holsters, Ray-Ban sunglasses and other trinkets mainly for compound inhabitants who can’t leave the premises to wander the real bazaars of Kabul.

And then the distinctive whup-whup of a pair of Blackhawk helicopters fills the air as they approach the soccer field to land — probably picking up some generals and officials f0r a meeting elsewhere. Traders at the makeshift bazaar scramble to tie down all the loose items on tables and secure tarps and tents. One shopkeeper throws a shawl across his display of jewelry and pleads with a visitor to please hold it down while he scampers off to do the same at the next table.

But it’s too late for some. Within seconds the powerful rotor-wash from the landing helos is whipping up a gust of wind and dust that’s so powerful it knocks down most tent poles and tarps. Plastic sunglass cases are knocked to ground, gemstones and small jewelry pieces are scattered among the loose gravel. One man runs around on the periphery of the field grabbing a bunch of plastic shopping bags that are blowing in the wind.

And then the choppers land, doors open and military personnel with guns spread to all corners of the field, crouching to secure the perimeter.

In the bazaar just beyond the soccer field several shopkeepers also are crouched on the ground, sifting through gravel to find and collect their gemstones and other small trinkets thrown to the ground by the wind gust. Others are  trying to right fallen tent poles while trying to keep an eye on customers walking past what used to be their storefronts.

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