BRITISH marines returning from an operation deep in the Afghan mountains spoke last night of an alarming new threat - being propositioned by swarms of gay local farmers.
An Arbroath marine, James Fletcher, said: "They were more terrifying than the al-Qaeda. One bloke who had painted toenails was offering to paint ours. They go about hand in hand, mincing around the village."
While the marines failed to find any al-Qaeda during the seven-day Operation Condor, they were propositioned by dozens of men in villages the troops were ordered to search.
"We were pretty shocked," Marine Fletcher said. "We discovered from the Afghan soldiers we had with us that a lot of men in this country have the same philosophy as ancient Greeks: ‘a woman for babies, a man for pleasure’."
Originally, the marines had sent patrols into several villages in the mountains near the town of Khost, hoping to catch up with al-Qaeda suspects who last week fought a four-hour gun battle with soldiers of the Australian SAS. The hardened troops, their faces covered in camouflage cream and weight down with weapons, radios and ammunition, were confronted with Afghans wanting to stroke their hair.
"It was hell," said Corporal Paul Richard, 20. "Every village we went into we got a group of men wearing make-up coming up, stroking our hair and cheeks and making kissing noises."
At one stage, troops were invited into a house and asked to dance. Citing the need to keep momentum in their search and destroy mission, the marines made their excuses and left. "They put some music on and ask us to dance. I told them where to go," said Cpl Richard. "Some of the guys turned tail and fled. It was hideous."
The Afghan hill tribes live in some of the most isolated communities in the country. "I think a lot of the problem is that they don’t have the women around a lot," said another marine, Vaz Pickles. "We only saw about two women in the whole six days. It was all very disconcerting."
A second problem the British found came minutes after the first helicopter touched down at one of the hilltop firebases, when local farmers appeared demanding compensation for goats they claimed had been blown off the mountains by the rotor blades. "Every time we landed a Chinook near a village, we got some irate bloke running up to us saying his goat has just got blown off the mountain ridge by the helicopter - and then he demanded a hundred dollars compensation," said Major Phil Joyce, commander of Whisky Company, one of four companies deployed.
As patrols moved away from the landing zones, the locals began pestering Afghan troops attached to the marines with ever more outrageous compensation demands - topping off at a demand from one village elder for $500 (300) for damage to a tree by the downdraft from helicopters.
But the marines were under orders to win the "hearts and minds" of local farmers in what is one of the few remaining Taleban bastions. "I managed to barter him down to two marine pens, a pencil and a rubber," Major Joyce said. "He went away quite happy ."