Trip To Saudi Arabia

fighters

I normally don’t like to write about anything that happened more than a few days in the past but I have a unique travel story to tell you about.  It is about my unexpected encounter with men that looked like those in the picture.

In 1987 I flew to Dhahran for government related work.  Three days later another government worker named Jane, a military Captain, and I flew to Riyadh in a small military plane.  The airport at Riyadh had a large passenger terminal, another large terminal just for royalty, and a small unmanned building for our government flights.  When we arrived the building was empty and we just walked through it to a vehicle that took us to the base.

I think we stayed two nights in Riyadh and then returned to the little terminal to catch our flight back to Dhahran.  When the three of us walked in the door, we were confronted with at least 80 men that looked like the fighters above.  Without a word, Jane and I threw down our suitcases, got out our black abayas, and quickly put them on.  Me in Saudi Arabia 1987We remained waiting near the door for about 20 minutes until our plane arrived and I know all three of us were rather uneasy.  Everyone one of these men stared at us the entire time and I’m certain they had never seen western women in person.  Finally the plane arrived and we walked through the crowd and out the back door to the tarmac.

I could not place from what country these men were from and the Captain said it was classified  secret as to who they were and what they were doing in Saudi Arabia.  For several years I kept running various countries through my mind and what the men looked and dressed like and came up empty.  Until 2001.  That is when we invaded Afghanistan and kicked the Taliban government out of power.  Putting together the pieces, I figured out these men were mujahideen

You may recall that the Soviets invaded and fought in Afghanistan from 1980-1989 to support the pro-Soviet government against various groups of Afghans fighters called the mujahideen.  The US government and other countries as well, trained and bankrolled the mujahideen to fight the Soviets.  After the Soviets pulled out in 1989, these groups fought each other for power.

After several years of fighting, a village mullah named Mohammed Omar organized, with the backing of Pakistan, a new movement called the Taliban and largely defeated the mujahideen militia’s. The Taliban ruled from 1996-2001.

I often hear that the mujahideen became the Taliban and thus we actually armed and trained the Taliban.  Maybe it’s partially true – I don’t know.

As to the abaya, it is very comfortable and not as forbidding as it looks.  They are made of a light weight nylon type material and don’t wrinkle.  We wore them when we went into the city sightseeing and shopping as all Saudi women do.  I could see that many of the women were dressed and made up to the nines underneath.  Also, the Saudi men like to leer and catcall so being covered up felt pretty good to me.


5 comments

  1. The term mujahideen really means something along the lines of “freedom fighter.” They were basically just a militia in Afghanistan. Once the war with the Soviets was won, they essentially dissolved and were absorbed into the Taliban and Al-Qaeda groups. It is said that Osama bin Laden went to Afghanistan to help in the fight against the Soviets and afterwards formed Al-Qaeda with some of those soldiers in the late 80s. So yes, we paid for and armed the mujahideen who took their training and weapons with them wherever it was they went next (which many of them did become Al-Qaeda or Taliban). The Taliban is not only a militant organization but also a political one, where Al-Qaeda is considered a terrorist organization.

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