When American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into his Pentagon office on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Roger Pardo-Maurer ’84 was grateful to be on the other side of the building. As U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Western Hemisphere Affairs and a special forces reservist, the terrorist attacks had a profound effect on Pardo-Maurer’s life.
In a packed Berkeley College Master’s Tea Monday afternoon, Pardo-Maurer spoke about and displayed several pictures of his recent experiences in and around Kandahar, Afghanistan, with the Green Berets of the 20th Special Forces Group. Pardo-Maurer, who worked with Afghan militias and warlords to bring stability to the region, began his presentation with a quotation he had heard a student recite earlier in the day.
“It would be futile to shut our eyes as to what war really is out of revulsion for its sheer brutality,” Pardo-Maurer said.
Serving with his military unit, nicknamed the “Gecko Boys,” Pardo-Maurer left his post in Washington and arrived in Kandahar in May 2002 after the major operation of the war, “Anaconda,” had been fought. Upon arrival, he encountered the results of decades of war — corruption, devastated infrastructure and human suffering.
“It’s insane, it’s inferno,” Pardo-Maurer said. “It breaks your heart to see the destitution.”
Many of Pardo-Maurer’s pictures showed American soldiers and Afghani citizens in good spirits. But mid-way through the presentation, the mood changed when he flashed a gruesome image of a dead, mutilated Afghani man whose brains were dripping out of his head. Calling the image a “reality check,” Pardo-Maurer emphasized the “horror of war.”
Pardo-Maurer also spoke about various missions his team carried out, including the destruction of one of the largest weapons caches of the war.
“We walked into one room that had detonation cords. It is highly flammable and [boys] were smoking joints in there,” Pardo-Maurer said. “I had to beat them with sticks to make them get out of there.”
In addition to confiscating arms and munitions, the Gecko Boys were responsible for dealing directly with enemy forces.
“The mission was to kill terrorists, ultimately,” Pardo-Maurer said.
After a nighttime raid in which the Gecko Boys captured the Head of Secret Police for the Kandahar province — a man who had been on the U.S. government’s top 10 most wanted list for some time — Pardo-Maurer sat next to the detainee and whispered taunts into his ear.
“We drove back six hours through the mountains and I was whispering ‘Guantanamo’ to him,” Pardo-Maurer said, referring to the U.S. prisoner of war camp at the Guantanamo Bay military base in Cuba.
After his presentation, Pardo-Maurer fielded questions about the situation in Iraq. When asked about a regime change in Iraq, he advocated a U.S. military occupation as a “beacon of hope” in the Middle East.
“Democracy is a very high standard we have set as a goal for Iraq,” Pardo-Maurer said. “It is as ambitious as the reconstruction of Germany or Japan after World War II.”
Pardo-Maurer spoke of the problems the American military may face in a large-scale war with Iraq.
“I personally favor a draft,” Pardo-Maurer said, although he acknowledged that such an action faces tough opposition.
Students said they enjoyed Pardo-Maurer’s talk for its straight-forward honesty.
“It was amazing to see the first-hand, personal experience of an American soldier in Afghanistan,” Sara Aviel SOM ’05 said. “I think that it illustrated the difficulty in grasping the true complexity of the relationships there.”