Kuchis are Pashtun nomads who formerly sold ghee and quroot (dried and reconstituted yoghurt) all over Afghanistan, and although their more or less unalterable way of life over thousands of years might have entitled them to some such Sunday-supplement description as "tribes that time forgot" as recently as 40 years ago, now they have leaped or been thrown so far forward that they already dwell in the future that awaits us all: climactic instability and endless war.
The Kuchi’s lifestyle has been eroded both by long-term changes associated with "modernization" and by devastating short-term events, like the droughts of 1971/2 and 1998/2002, and the wars of the 80s, 90s and today.
Their population was estimated at 2 – 2.5 million in the 60s, 70s and early 80s, but has shrunk to 1.3 – 1.5 million today according to a recent study by the UN’s World Food Program.
Roads, drought, landmines, Russian bombing, U.S. cluster bombs, and war-related impoverishment have all played a role in this halving of the Kuchi population.
But in spite of so many misfortunes a few Kuchis families still wander across the plains of Helmand Province, and even along the salty banks of the Helmand River near Khan Neshin, now observed from long-range camera towers by US Marines, assigned to shut down the many unmarked trails that lead across the desert from Pakistan into Helmand Province.
“We have to get down to the border. We have to establish a legal border crossing point, so that if you try to bypass it, it becomes an illegal activity,” says Lt. Col. Michael Martin, the commanding officer in charge of 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion in the Khan Neshin area. “You start to squeeze off the insurgency’s ability to resupply itself.”
Unfortunately for the Kuchis, "squeezing off" the insurgency also means "squeezing off" anybody else engaged in the "illegal activity" of crossing the plains of Helmand anywhere except at a crossing-point authorized under the ad hoc "authority" of crazy foreign devils who have absolutely no fucking clue about who’s a Pushtun Kuchi and who’s a Pushtun Taliban traveling with a Kuchi caravan.
Kuchi encampments have been raided by U.S. troops, e.g., on January 25, 2002, thirty U.S. soldiers backed up by jets and helicopters descended upon a 100 tent camp in the Bak district 28 kms. north of Khost. And then on September 18, 2003, U.S. Apache attack helicopters fired upon "a tent" in the Naubahar district of Zabul. Tribesman Haji Lawang said five women and four children were killed and six people were wounded. The U.S. military said it was investigating reports of "noncombatant casualties."
And that very old news from 2002 and 2003 about US massacres of hapless Kuchi nomads was only the beginning of so many nauseatingly similar stories from 2004 and 2005 and 2006 and 2007 and 2008 and 2009…