KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN – The Global War on Terror claimed new casualties this week, though the victims were not Afghan civilians or U.S. military personnel. Two American civilians were killed and one wounded when their Google Street View Prius triggered an IED while driving the streets of southern Afghanistan.
With the much-publicized U.S. pullout from Afghanistan looming on the horizon, the State Department had urged American businesses and private investors to continue to support the fledgling democracy. Touting a decrease in violent attacks across the nation, the White House had encouraged U.S. mapping companies to update their Afghanistan databases, giving greater access and understanding about the third-world nation to the rest of the world.
Google was the first company to respond, sending a team to begin street level input in the major southern Afghan city of Kandahar, once called the heartland of the Taliban, and still home to over 40,000 U.S. and Coalition military personnel actively engaged in combat operations.
“Our mission with Google Street View has always been to show people places that they would never get off their lazy ass and be able to see otherwise,” said Robert Smith, a spokesman for the company.
Unfortunately for the mapping team, led by veteran Google employee John Volstead, the country was not nearly as quiet or subdued as the US government had led them to believe.
After paying five different bribes to Afghan officials, police officers, and one twelve year old boy with an AK-47 who claimed that he “owned the alley” that the team was trying to drive through, the team arrived at their first location, just 50 meters south of an Afghan National Army (ANA) combat outpost. The uniformed Afghans, munching on MREs and other American-provided staples, sat on the HESCO parapets of their base and watched the crew intently, ignoring passing traffic and weapon-laden vehicles that cruised openly past the location.
Moments after the Google team exited their vehicle, the crew’s Afghan driver bolted from the scene, leaving them alone, confused, and without an interpreter. Undaunted, Volstead began to set up his equipment, and ordered his team to do the same.
These routine actions were interrupted when rookie member Wanda Folkes, a Berkley graduate, anti-war activist, and former Peace Corps volunteer, stepped on a pressure plate IED, killing her and a passerby instantly and wounding two other members of the group. As Volstead began screaming for help, the Afghan soldiers, all of whom were on cellphones or holding up cheap video cameras, ignored his cries and continued to watch the scene.
“There was a serious bomb that just went off,” said ANA Sergeant Muhammed Atollah as he uploaded the video to his YouTube account. “We’re in the military. We don’t have the training to respond to such things.”
Afghan children began searching the smoking crater for trinkets or valuables that Folkes may have dropped.
Eventually a U.S. Army unit arrived to secure the scene, treating the remaining casualties and berating the ANA troops for their lack of action. In response, the men asked the U.S. soldiers for more water and extra batteries for their video cameras, which they had exhausted filming the IED strike.
When told about the Google team’s mission and reason for being in the area, U.S. Army platoon sergeant Miles Wallace said of the incident, “well that’s fucking stupid.”